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Ax Iberian Queen, from Eeche, Spain, Itii Century, B. C. 

Xote the Cretan ornaments. From llir M a see rlu Louvre. 

A History of 






Copyright 1938 

By Katk Campuell Hurd-Mead 
All rights reserved 


Printed in the U. S. A. 


MERSON once said that history lives only in its complete records; 

that its characters must breathe in the atmosphere of their times. 
Such delineation has not been the good fortune of the women who 
carried the burden of medical practice down the ages. There are many 
reasons for this failure. Sometimes the lack of women’s names in the 
records was due simply to the errors of copyists, or to the printers who 
mistook feminine nouns or adjectives for masculine ones: many a change 
of an “a” to an “ e” or an “us” has made a profound difference in our 
medical history. When in the eleventh century some careless calligra- 
pher wrote “Trottus” for “Trotula,” he, as Osier put it, “deprived a 
woman of her identity as well as her chair.” Hatshepsut, the great 
woman Pharaoh, was not the first or the last ruler to have her name 
erased from her own obelisks and temples by a jealous successor. 

And we are faced with more than documentary mistakes. With 
women far more than with men tradition has been prone to garble and 
distort the original data. But this very fact increases the reliability of 
those stories of the work of medical women which have persisted down 
the ages, surviving jealousy, calumny, carelessness and indifference. If 
any traditions of medical women survived all these handicaps, it is all 
the more probable that they were based on solid and substantial fact. 

But it has fortunately not been necessary to rely on tradition alone 
for our evidence. There is plenty of authentic documentation attesting 
the importance of the work of women in medicine; though it is true 
that these documents were so long overlooked that their resurrection 
necessitated a long hunt in the great libraries both of Europe and Ameri- 
ca. We today, who find women in the front ranks as social workers, as 
hospital consultants, as moral reformers, as peacemakers, are too ready 
to think of their place and activities as something new. Nothing could 
be further from the truth. From the remotest times there exists 
abundant record that in each and all of these fields women were always 
active and always without ostentation. But to men for countless cen- 
turies the stirring events of war rather than those of peace were para- 




mount. If histones have been one-sided it has not been so much that the 
writers of them were deliberately anti-feminist, but rather that they had 
no real appreciation of the value of the work which women had done, 
or were doing. 

Writing a history of women in medicine is a task to appall any 
biographer. Walt Whitman said: 

When I read the hook, the biography famous. 

And is this, then, said I, what the author calls a man’s life? 

And will someone when I am dead and gone write mv life? 

(As if any man really knew aught of my real life); 

\\ hy, even I myself, I often think, know little or nothing of my real life; 

Only a few hints — a few diffused, faint clues and indirections 

I seek for my own use to trace out here. 

In other words, as has been said, all histories, to be of value, must 
show people in their environment; and, after the lapse of many gener- 
ations, that environment must often be reconstructed from all sorts of 
scraps and traces, from bits of recorded history, from the tales told by 
wandering minstrels, and found in literary traditions. And this re- 
construction of history, in so far as it concerns women, will probably 
have to be done by women ; certainly so far most men have seemed in- 
capable of making a true appraisement of the development of women’s 
life and work. 

When an historian writes such a multum in parvo as Garrison’s 
“History of Medicine,’’ facts, of course, must be verified and statements 
made accurate. But the historian’s work does not stop there: the little 
explanatory details that make his characters live are as necessary as the 
basic framework. When, for instance, Garrison says of William Harvey 
that he was a “little perpetual movement machine”; and that, when 
calumniated, he “scarcely dared move an eyelid,” one can not get, even 
from the man’s contemporary portraits, a more vivid picture of his 

Nor is it easy to appraise at its true value the place of any person 
in the historical perspective. As a class, women seem always to have 
been too busy to say much about themselves. And sometimes it has 
seemed that the more worthwhile their deeds the less they said about 
them. Few women have had Boswells, though many should have had. 

Dr. Howard Kellv, in the epitaphologia to his “Dictionary of 
American Medical Biography” (1928), asks the following questions as 
the basis for the insertion of an individual biography: What did the 
physician cited do for others? How did he advance the science and art 



of medicine? Did he teach, write, or invent apparatus? Was he a 
public servant? No better set of questions to appraise the work of 
women doctors could be devised. Judged by the standards implied by 
these questions women doctors have, from the beginning of time, shown 
that their life-work has had this main object: to serve. They have been, 
as a class, generous and sympathetic, born teachers and experimenters, 
indefatigable workers. In the Osier “Memorial Volume,” C. N. B. 
Camac, calling William Osier the best beloved physician of his time, 
said: “It is not the toil, the struggle. . . but ideals, principles and deeds 
that live on as man’s immortal self, ever reincarnated in the lives and 
teachings of his disciples.” And these same words can be justly applied 
to most of the medical women of history. 

It was in 1890, at the historical club of Johns Hopkins Hospital, 
that Osier and Welch and Kelly, enthusiastic as they were over the 
cultural value of the study of medical history, inspired me to search 
among the old archives for the story of women’s place in the develop- 
ment of medicine. Such a study had never before been seriously under- 
taken, and such bits of information on the subject as had appeared in 
medical histories written by men were meagre indeed. The following 
year, 1891, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi published a short but most illumi- 
nating account of the medical women of America, and Mrs. Ednah Dow 
Cheney wrote on the nurses. In 1900, Dr. Melanie Lipinska, of Paris, 
published her work on medical women in general. In 1907 a brilliant 
history of nursing was published by M. Adelaide Nutting and Lavinia 
L. Dock; and, in 1922, Dr. Louisa Martindale brought out a brief 
history of outstanding medical women down the ages, a story culmi- 
nating in the work of the British women doctors, surgeons, radiologists, 
and pathologists during the Great War. Since that time numerous 
monographs, autobiographies and reports about or by noted women 
doctors have been published, but many of them have been in a form not 
easily accessible to the general public. 

From 1890 to 1925 I was so busy with private practice and medico- 
social work that I could only accumulate materials. In the latter year, 
however, I gave up practice and settled down at the British Museum 
Library for two years of research, seeking authentic information in the 
original documents in Greek, Latin, and other languages, and in many 
books now out of print, from which might be compiled as true and as 
complete a story as possible of the work of women in medicine. This 
material was afterward augmented from manuscripts found in other 
libraries both here and abroad, by personal visits to most of the countries 


ticipation of women in medicine and insisting upon equal medical train- 
ing with men together with all the titular dignities, opportunities and 
emoluments attached to such training. The battles fought and won in 
that connection, within the memories of some of us still living, will be 
described in the second volume by Dr. Mead to follow this long historical 

Scanning my own seven decades I recall many happy pictures more 
or less connected with this epochal medical feminist movement. Let me 
indulge in a few refreshing memories without limiting them too closely 
to the vital subject of our memoirs. 

In my earlier years, the Blackwell sisters and Marie Zakrzewska 
constituted a precious heritage of pioneering force. While founding the 
Kensington Hospital for Women, my personal contacts materialized 
with the Woman’s Medical College and Hospital in Philadelphia, and 
with Doctors Broomall, Croasdale, Fullerton, and others. How well 
do I recall Frances Emily White, teacher of physiology, and her contro- 
versy with Edward Drinker Cope, the geologist, over the material basis 
of life. Then there arises the memory of Alice Bennett, working re- 
formations in the Insane Asylum at Norristown, Pennsylvania, and of 
Caroline Purnell, enthusiastic surgeon and gynecologist to the Woman’s 
Medical College. After coming to Baltimore in 1889, how helpful and 
stimulating the associations with Sarah Hackett Stevenson, from the 
Cook County Hospital, Chicago. Nor can I forget the long years and 
happy associations with Doctor Lilian W r elsh of Goucher College and 
Dr. Mary Sherwood of Baltimore. Nor must I omit my coadjutor, 
Elizabeth Hurdon, now head of the Marie Curie Hospital of London, 
England, nor Lillian K. P. Farrar, able radiologist and gynecologist to 
the Woman’s Hospital, New York City. And for what help am I in- 
debted to Dr. Alfreda Withington! It has ever seemed to me that 
every woman who has earnestly entered into medicine has made a con- 
spicuous reputation ; and especially has this been notable in the Spanish- 
American and the Great War. 

Among the women leaders in medicine have been large numbers 
entering the mission fields in Asia, India and Africa. My Chinese 
friend, Doctor Mary Stone of Shanghai, has been particularly outstand- 
ing in her beneficent services to her country. In India one thinks at 
once of Anna S. Kugler, Mary Baer, and the preeminent Ida Scudder 
of Vellore; in north India, Dame of the Realm, Edith Brown, has in 
her long years of service built up a monumental hospital and training 
school for native nurses and midwives. 


What a volume could be written of medical women in England! 
My thought reverts to the warm friendship and happy associations with 
that remarkable woman, Dame Mary Scharlieb, Dean of the London 
School of Medicine for Women, a truly great surgeon and publicist, 
noted for her work in India and her writings as well as her work during 
the Great War. Dr. Mead’s second volume will include these women 
and many more. 

My own deep interest has found its substantial objective and ex- 
pression for the last twenty years in collecting important works con- 
nected with the modern advancement of women into their new social and 
political relations and in forming a library of some six hundred volumes 
now deposited in the Welch Medical Library, in a room dedicated to 
the Nursing School of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. 

No work, therefore, could be more opportune than these volumes 
by Doctor Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead. After so prolonged a struggle, 
much has been accomplished looking forward towards the terminus ad 
quem of so many centuries. But wisdom from past experience dictates 
caution and suggests that there still remain greater conquests for woman- 
hood in the medical-social-moral realm so urgently calling for renovation 
and purification! 

Howard A. Kelly 

Baltimore , June, IQJ7 




I. Medical Women in Ancient Times 1-70 

I — Women in Primitive Medicine 1 

II — Medical Women Among the Egyptians 14 

III— The Hebrews and Their Medical Women 24 

IV — The Greek Mythological Background 28 

V — Greek Medical Tradition 33 

VI — Greek Medical Women 39 

VII — The Medical Women of Rome 48 

VIII — The First Century' After Christ 52 

IX — The Second Century' 62 

II. Tiie Medical Women of the Early Middle Ages 71-113 

I — Medicine in the First Centuries of Our Era 71 

II — Medicine in the Third and Fourth Centuries 76 

III— The Fifth Century 84 

IV — Medicine in the Sixth Century 90 

V — The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Centuries 96 

VI — The Tenth and Eleventh Centuries 107 

III. The School of Salerno: Trotula 114-154 

I — Salerno: Its Early History' 114 

II — Salerno: Methods of Instruction 120 

III — Salerno: Its Teachers and Writers 123 

IV — Trotula and Her Work 127 

V — The Printed Editions of Trotula 134 

VI — The Details of Trotula’s Practice 142 

VII — Poetical Forms of the Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum 152 

IV. The Medical Women of the Twelfth Century 155-203 

I— The Life of the Twelfth Century 155 

II — Medical Education and Laws Governing Medical 

Practice 156 

III — The Home Life of Women, Twelfth Century 160 

IV — The Crusaders and Their Hospitals 165 

V — The Jewish and Arabic Medical Women of the 

Twelfth Century 170 

VI — Monastic Life — Roy'al Medical Women of the Twelfth 

Century 174 

VII — Famous Abbesses and Their Monasteries 176 

VIII — Saint Hildegard of Bingen 183 

IX — The Brighter Side of the Twelfth Century 195 

X — The Twelfth Century — Men Practitioners 200 

V. Tiie Thirteenth Century 204-245 

I — Social Life in the Thirteenth Century 204 

II — Medical Education in the Thirteenth Century 210 

HI — The French MedicalWomen of the Thirteenth Century 217 


IN' — The Thirteenth Century — The Itest of Europe 219 

V — Thirteenth Century Medical Women in Tales and Songs 227 
NT — The Hospitals of the Century and the Nursing Sisters 230 

NT I — Men Physicians of the Thirteenth Century 233 

VIII — Remedies of the Thirteenth Century 239 

IX — The Surgery of the Thirteenth Century — 242 

X — The Thirteenth Century — Conclusion 244 

NT. The Fourteenth Century 246-290 

I — The Fourteenth Century — Wars and Epidemics 246 

II — Home Life of the Fourteenth Century 250 

III — Medicine in Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Other NVritcrs 256 
IN' — The Medical Atmosphere of the Fourteenth Century 260 

V — Medical NVomen of England — Fourteenth Century .... 264 

VI — Medical Women of France — Fourteenth Century 268 

NT I — Medical NVomen of the Fourteenth Century Else- 
where in Europe 272 

VIII — Midwives of the Fourteenth Century 280 

IX — Men Physicians of the Fourteenth Century 283 

NT I. The Medicai. NVomen oe the Fifteenth Century 291-330 

I — Cultural Background 291 

II — Pestilences of the Fifteenth Century 297 

III — Education of the Fifteenth Century 299 

IN' — Medical Women in the Tales of the Fifteenth Century 30-4 

V — Notable Medical NVomen of the Century 305 

VI — The Midwives and Their Textbooks 313 

VII — Pediatrics — A New Specialty 317 

VIII — Hospitals in Care of Medical NVomen „ „ 320 

IX — Women of the Nobility and Medicine 323 

X — Surgery in the Fifteenth Century _ 325 

XI — Medical Incunabula 328 

VIII. The Sixteenth Century — 331-385 

I — General Characteristics of the Century — The Re- 
naissance and the Reformation — 331 

II — Sanitation in the Sixteenth Century 338 

III — Medical NVomen in Elizabethan England 341 

IV — The Sixteenth Century Elsewhere in Europe 347 

V — Convents in the Sixteenth Century 353 

VI — Sixteenth Century Midwives 355 

VII — Some Sixteenth Century Medical Books 362 

VIII — Medical Men of the Sixteenth Century 368 

IX — Sixteenth Century Materia Medica 379 

X — The Sixteenth Century — Conclusion 382 

IX. Medical Women of the Seventeenth Century 386-453 

I — General Conditions in the Seventeenth Century 386 

II — NVomen Obstetricians in England 393 

III — English NVomen as Physicians 400 

IV — Physicians and Midwives in the American Colonies 407 

V — The Seventeenth Century — Medical NVomen in France 417 

VI — TheSeventeenthCentury — Medical NVomen in Germany 423 

VII — The Seventeenth Century — Elsewhere in Europe 429 

VIII — Medical Men of the .Seventeenth Century 433 

IX — The Seventeenth Century Surgeons 443 

X — Seventeenth Century Pharmacopoeia 446 

XI — Conclusion 450 


X. Medical Women of the Eighteenth Century 454-520 

I— The Cultural Place of the Eighteenth Century 454 

II — The Eighteenth Century — Midwifery and Medicine 459 

III — Smallpox and Other Epidemics 468 

IV— Medical Women of the Eighteenth Century — Great 

Britain - 471 

V- — Quacks and Charlatans - 479 

VI — Early American Women Practitioners 482 

VII — The Eighteenth Century — France 491 

VIII — Medical Women in Germany 501 

IX — Medical Women Elsewhere in Europe 505 

X — The Eighteenth Century — The General Status of 

Medicine - 513 

Appendix — 521 

Errata — 525 

Index 527 

List of Illustrations 


An Iberian Queen, from Elche, Spain, 4th Century B. C. Frontispiece 

A Mediaeval Persian Anatomical Drawing 8 

A Sumerian Priestess Physician, About 4000 B. C 13 

Hatshepsut, Most Famous Woman Pharaoh, 1500 B. C 16 

Most Ancient Known Pictorial Record of a Woman Doctor ..... 20 

Medicine Chest of Egyptian Queen, and Contents, 2300 B. C 22 

Greek Woman “Lets Blood,” 500 B. C' 34 

Early Gravestone of a Woman Physician, 3rd Century A. D 79 

Tomb of a Woman Physician as “Mater Esculapius” 79 

Empress Theodora Between Saints Benedict and Scholastica 92 

Salerno As It Appears Today 115 

Patients Visiting A Salerno Physician, 12th Century 118 

A Woman Apothecary (or Doctor) and a King 122 

A Lying-in Room of the Early 10th Century 147 

Title Page of “Regimen Sanitatis” _ 151 

Skeletal Anatomy, 12th Century 159 

Treatment of Wounds of the Head, 12th Century 163 

Costume of the Nursing Nuns of St. John of Jerusalem 167 

Obstetrics in the 12th Century 171 

Caesarian Section — Probably the Earliest Picture 182 

Arrival of a Soul in the Body of An Infant 188 

Tobit and Anna, or the Lady as Physician _ 197 

The Venous System — Anatomical Drawing, 13th Century 213 

Two Women Surgeons Examine a Patient’s Liver 216 

Saint Elizabeth in Her Dispensary (Murillo) 221 

Lecture on Anatomy by Mundinus 225 

Hospital Patients Attended by Women Physicians, 13th Century 227 

Women doctors and Nurses, St. Bartholomew’s _ 232 

Queen Blanche’s Hospital at Royaumont 232 

A Dissection in the 13th Century 235 


Hospital Scenes, 13th Century 

A Sick Bed Scene, 14th Century „ 

Christine de Pisan in Her Alcove, Writing _ 

Christine de Pisan Presents Her Book to the Queen 

A Messenger Brings a Specimen of I'rine to the Apothecary 

A Women Teaching Anatomy to Her Class, ltth Century 

An Abbess as Pharmacist, 13th Century 

The Nativity (Giotto), l tth Century 

Teaching Medicine to a Woman, l tth Century 

A New Born Baby in a Humble Home, 15th Century 

Beatrix Galindo 

Consulting Physician’s Visit, 15th Century „.. 

Mother, Baby, and Woman Doctor, 15th Ccnturv Tapestrv ... 

Queen Isabella of Spain 

Hospital of Isabella at Santiago de C< upostila, in Spain 

Ortoltf von Bayerlarult, 15th Century 

Hospital of the Duchess of Suffolk, Ewelme, 15th Century ... 

Tomb of the Duchess of Suffolk _ 

Surgical Operation Without Anaesthetics (Jan Steen) 

Anatomical Figure for Students, Kith Ccnturv 

A Surgical Operation, Kith Century Woodcut 

A 14-th Century Hospital — Itothcnberg, oh der Tauber 

A Ward in the Hotel Dicu of Paris 

Louyse Bourgeois 

Obstetric Chair, 16th Century 

Another Kith Century Obstetric Chair, Used in Bed 

A Woman Surgeon Treats a Deg Wound 

Female Anatomy in the 17th Century 

Mrs. Collier's Appeal to .Tames II for a Royal Hospital 

Professor Anne Morandi Manzolini 

Lifcy Hutchinson and Her Son 

Anna Maria von Schurmann _ 

Dorothea Christiana Erxleben, M. I) 

Noble Ladies and Nuns at the Hotel Dieu, Paris 

Elizabeth Blackwell - 

Charlotte Heiland von Siebold, Dr. Obst 

Madame de Stael-PIolstein - 

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu 

Licence Granted Eleanor Woodhouse 


25 I 







































Chapter I 

Medical Women In Ancient Times 


I T is a long time since enlightened people have believed that Eve was 
made from a rib of Adam, but not so long since Eve determined to 
be independent of Adam and to assume certain roles congenial to her 
mentality. The belief that she was born with two hundred million 
ovules to provide for all future generations has also been discarded along 
with many another outworn theological dogma. 

It is not, however, seriously doubted that males and females differ 
in certain protoplasmic cells which are capable of almost infinite pro- 
liferation and specialization, and that this diversification produces 
different talents in both sexes. From the da}^s of our little tarsial an- 
cestor, neither squirrel nor monkey, handwork acquired a new signi- 
ficance and became coordinated with mental development ; and after 
many thousands of years there was created a human mother with skill 
in using her hands and her brain for the alleviation of the suffering not 
only in her own family but among her neighbors. With the develop- 
ment of sympathy and altruism in both men and women there arose a 
religious instinct which peopled the air round about with good and 
bad spirits; and from this it was but a step to priests and priestesses 
who could propitiate the bad gods and gain the favors of the good gods 
in the sea and air and trees and rocks. Man, strong and active, became 
the muscular hunter of food, while woman busied herself near her home 
with the care of the helpless, and with the preparation of clothing and 
food. The evolution of mankind has been deduced from anthropological 
studies of aborigines in many lands, who are still living like the 
cannibals of the stone age, still worshipping natural objects, still be- 
lieving in demons, eating the hearts of their enemies as well as of wild 
beasts, bathing their own heads in the blood and brains of the slain, and 
sprinkling t^eir doorposts with blood to cure their children from unseen 



but very real pain. But even in the twentieth century, among remote 
peoples, as in past ages, women are the ones who tend women in labor, 
gather herbs and mix remedies for easing pain, suck a sore spot until it 
bleeds and shout the incantations for exorcising its demon. Medicine 
men seem necessary only when a louder noise is needed to scatter demons, 
or when greater strength than that of medicine women is indispensable 
for treating a patient. 

Although many thousands of years were required to evolve deities 
with human personality from natural objects, or animals, or from tales of 
extraordinary men and women of earlier times, it could not have taken 
a mother long to learn when her crying baby needed something more 
than food, and that what she could neither see, touch, nor hear was more 
to be dreaded than anything human. The silence and stillness of death 
must have been much more mysterious to her than even to us. Any 
great animal, any bad dream, any overwhelming phenomenon of nature 
such as thunder, an earthquake, a flood or drought, led her to seek pro- 
tection for herself and her child behind some rock or tree, or in a dimly 
lighted cave, where the bearing of her own heart must have seemed like 
some spirit companion to quiet her fears. As language and picture 
writing developed, signs and emblems symbolized the actual gods; finally 
a statue came to represent a deity in the form of a beast or a heroic king; 
and the larger the effigy the greater was its power. Such being the 
case, it is easy to understand why goddesses were as necessary as gods, 
since a world or a heaven would be unthinkable without wives and 
mothers. Thus earthly mothers came to be incarnated as goddesses of 

Payment for their services these superhuman beings demanded in 
the form of sacrifices such as food or flowers, or burnt offerings, the 
ashes of which might float down stream to an unknown sea god, or the 
odors delight some god in the air. Gradually, in imagination, these gods 
and goddesses became more human ; so that, even if at the outset they 
had taken the form of lions or elephants or bulls, in the course of time 
visions of dead ancestors also became very real, until the whole air was 
full of spirits whose voices were heard in the rustling of the leaves, the 
murmuring of the waves, or the raging of the storm. What could be 
more natural than for women to worship these spirits while watching 
by a wounded husband, a dying friend, or a mother in labor? 

Sir Arthur Evans 1 has said that the rites by which medicine men of 

1 ‘‘The Mycenaean Tree and Pillar Cult,” 1901, p. 21. 



primitive races the world over are able to shut up gods or spirits in a 
material object show how easily the idea of attracting or compelling such 
spiritual occupation must have arisen. As proof they placed rude stone 
monuments over graves to be places of indwelling for the spirits of the 
occupants of the tombs or of their followers and slaves before whom 
offerings of food and drink were invitingly arranged. 

Although it is impossible for us to imagine ourselves roaming with 
the cave men after the long glacial ages, watching and wondering about 
the birth of their babies, or about the hatching of eggs, the flight of birds, 
the raging of the tempest, we are still awed by such phenomena as earth- 
quakes, eclipses, and floods. Many intelligent people still visit clair- 
voyants for interpretations of dreams; and few physicians would willing- 
ly separate religion from medicine in their practice and depend entirely 
upon themselves or their drugs for healing their patients. It is, there- 
fore, small wonder that in the South Sea Islands, where long ago Roman 
Catholic missionaries taught the natives the religion of Christ, the cross 
is today worshipped as “mother” among the natives, whose healers, bone- 
setters, midwives, and pediatrists are always women. 

It has frequently been said that there is little difference in the 
medicine of aboriginal peoples anywhere. The ancient Aztecs, other 
American Indians, the inhabitants of some of the islands of the Pacific, 
and the natives of African jungles always employed women healers, who 
worked by manipulations or hot drinks or baths or by other methods to 
exorcise evil spirits. Among these peoples the conditions of life were like 
those in Greece and Sumeria and Egypt in the stone and bronze ages. 
In case of intense headache flint chisels and stick drills were used for 
opening the skull and drawing out the demon. Hot stones checked 
bleeding, and stone knives opened abscesses. The surgical instruments 
found in Pompeii and in ancient graves all over the world are much 
the same in shape: bronze pincers and probes, stone lancets, bone needles, 
animal sutures, bronze dilators, and traction forceps — such were the in- 
struments used in Egypt by the wife of Moses, and in Greece by the 
women of Homer’s day, who were surgeons as well as midwives and 
general healers of the sick. Among the people in the remote country 
places of Egypt and Greece agricultural and medical methods today 
differ very little from those of their remote ancestors; and medical 
traditions are handed down from mother to daughter much as they were 
in the time of the Trojan wars. 



Mary McKibbin Harper 1 tells us that many of the California 
Indians still use the old incantations and medicine dances. A patient 
may be taken by the medicine woman to a lonely place in the woods 
where she is given a sweat and a pommelling, and then the disease is 
sucked from her mouth and placed in a basket to be taken home. Ac- 
cording to the psycholog}’ of these Indians, pain is visualized by color and 
length, and though the medicine women have no scientific ideas as to 
the treatment of pain the medicine men have even less desire to be 
helpful. Schoolcraft 2 tells us that when the Indian women are about 
to be confined they go off alone and deliver themselves beside a pool of 
water, if possible, or, like Esquimau women, under some improvised 
shelter, or in a wayside ditch like the mother of Virgil; but, if the birth 
is delayed, native women are sometimes called to manipulate the exit 
of the baby. There is, however, less scientific care of the aboriginal 
patient than was taught by Hippocrates in Greece more than two 
thousand years ago. 

We find among all the constantly dwindling aborigines of the 
world the same crude religious beliefs that primitive humanity had. 
Women are still considered the natural healers, the only obstetricians, 
the bone-setters, the gatherers of medicinal herbs; and as priestesses of 
their gods, and representatives of their goddesses, they are, if successful, 
almost adored. Why, in the process of evolution and education during 
historic times, women as physicians became subordinate to men and fell 
from this high estate it is difficult to say; but nevertheless it will be seen 
that, whether conspicuously in the public eye or not, women have con- 
tinued to train themselves in all possible ways down the centuries for 
the relief of their suffering friends and neighbors as well as of their 
own families. Possibly among the chromozomes of women there is one 
denoting excessive self-effacement and timidity! Periodically in the past 
medical women have been brought out of obscurity into the public eye; 
but these waves seem to have occurred at times of great economic distress, 
and to have been followed by long subsidences. 

However this may be, we can not believe that the mere study of 
scholastic philosophy and of astrology or even of the Seven Liberal Arts, 
geometry, logic, music, et cetera, could have made a better doctor of a 
monk than practical bedside study of a patient made of women. While 

1 Harper, M. McK., Med. Woman’s Jour., 1928, p. 286. 

2 “Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years With the Indian Tribes,” 



priests were being paid for praying, the medical women and priestesses 
were massaging painful joints, trying patiently to ease the pains of child- 
birth, washing the sores of lepers, bleeding and cupping, setting bones, 
and gathering well-known remedies for stomach ache. 

In every part of the world there was a goddess to be sought in time 
of sickness, whether she took the form of a serpent, a cow, or a lioness, 
or became IVIary, the IVlother of Jesus. Among the Aztecs, the deity 
of healing took the form of a serpent and her statue was painted with 
serpent’s blood. At her festival eight live snakes were swallowed by 
her devotees, and ritualistic dances were performed in which snake 
symbols were prominent. It is interesting to note that the snake has 
always been associated with the gods of healing, whether among the 
American Indians, or the early Greeks, or the rebellious Hebrews in 
the time of Moses. Apollo’s wand and modern medical insignia have 
coiled serpents on the staff — Aesculapius and Hygeia were never seen 
without such a wand. 

But even where serpents were worshipped as deities of healing 
there were many other goddesses to whom altars were raised for the 
relief of physical suffering, as well as for a cure of sterility, the bane of 
women in all ages. Among the ancient Celts, for example, there were 
several female divinities of fertility and health. Troublesome questions 
of law and religion might be submitted to learned men, but medical 
questions were for priestesses. The gods and goddesses to whom hot 
springs and sacred herbs were dedicated were equal in knowledge and 
wisdom. Sirona and Sul, male and female, were the chief healers, but 
Brigit, the “shining one,” like the lioness-headed goddess of Egypt, was 
the special goddess of fire and fertility. Fires burned continually on the 
altars of these divinities and much of the folk lore of Ireland, Wales, 
and ancient Gaul is founded on the imagination of these ancient Celts 
and their so-called Druid religion. One of the queens of Ireland, Macha 
of the golden hair, was a priestess of this cult. She is said to have 
founded a hospital in the year 600 B. C., which was used for six hundred 
years. The sole document in the Irish language ascribed to St. Patrick 
is a hymn in which he invokes the Trinity and all the powers of Nature 
against the enchantments of these mythical “Druid” priestesses because 
they refused to accept the Christian religion. 

As to the beginnings of medical teaching within historic times 
authorities differ widely. Formerly it was thought that the Minoan 
civilization in the Greek archipelago, perhaps four thousand years ago, 



was the first in which any scientific investigations were made as to 
medical treatment or diagnosis, but now the date is being pushed far back 
into the hazy past of the Sumerians, among whom women were considered 
honorable healers at least six thousand years ago, and from whom new 
theories of disease were carried by the merchants, through commerce, to 
the Phoenicians, Egyptians, and Greeks, as we shall soon learn. It is said 
that as early as 1500 B. C. there were women students at the medical 
school of Heliopolis, in Egypt. 1 

On the other hand, it has been held by certain scholars that India 
was the cradle of medicine, and that the Greek Hippocrates studied there 
and learned how to perform surgical operations, including laparatomies, 
Caesarian sections, trephining, and even how to make inoculations for 
smallpox. Neuburger 2 says that the Hindus understood the use of seven 
hundred drugs as well as rules for diet and medicinal baths, the value of 
exercise, etc. Benares was the center of the medical cult, and trained 
physicians were priests as well as the guardians of the sick. After India 
came under the power of Asoka, during the third century B. C., it was 
forced to adopt the Buddhist religion in which social service was a 
cardinal principle. Hospitals for the poor and the sick were built in 
every town, and young men and maidens were taught how to care for 
the needy and urged to devote their lives with zeal to medical charity. 
Asoka published an edict, which may be read today on a rock at Gujerat, 
commanding the establishment of hospitals throughout his vast kingdom. 
Some of these were seen by travellers a thousand years later, and the 
foundations of a few of those in Ceylon are still easily traced. At 
Anaradhapura, for instance, is the substructure of a hospital similar in 
design to the temples of Aesculapius at Epidaurus in the Peloponnesus, 
and at Hadrian’s Villa, at Tivoli. It is probable that even the great 
Alexander, while introducing Greek plastic art into India, borrowed 
from the Buddhists some of their ideas as to the art of medicine, since 
we know that both he and his learned mother were interested in medical 
work. 3 

1 Burdett, H. C., “Hospitals and Asylums of the World,” 1893. 

2 “History of Medicine,” 1910, vol. I, p. 97. 

3 Sarton, G., “Introduction to the History of Science,” 1927, vol. I, p. 76, 
quotes from the ancient Vedas that Susruta and Atreya were among the most 
ancient professors at Benares, in the heart of India, in the 6th century B. C. 
Buddhist tradition tells us that Susruta was a surgeon and that he wrote a text 
l>ook on operations and instruments as well as remedies for disease. This was 
perhaps two hundred years before Greek medicine became established. 



Further east we find that the Chinese and Siamese very early learned 
what they knew of medicine from the Brahmins. They employed women 
doctors in their courts to attend hospital patients free of charge, and 
such women were regarded as highly as any men of the kingdom. Bur- 
dett and others tell us that, by 1000 B. C., the Chinese were more ad- 
vanced in civilization than any other nation of the known world. Their 
women were not only midwives and gatherers of herbs but surgeons and 
students of medical lore. Like the men doctors they were dependent 
upon tradition for their methods of treatment, although they were skilled 
in making anatomical dissections of the human body, not merely of the 
pig. Later, however, the Chinese, like the modern Hindus, Arabs, and 
Turks, lazily discarded the logic of their medicine, and allowed their 
doctors to take up any corrupt practice they chose and to foster the exor- 
cism of devils with noise, nauseating drugs, needles and moxas, even for- 
getting their old customs of vaccination, clean surgery and helpful herbs. 
Until the coming of the Christian missionaries in the nineteenth 
century, women in China were considered as household fixtures not only 
hampered by ancient tradition, but incapable of using their brains or 
their hands in any public intellectual work. The period between the 
great days of Confucius and Lao-tse, in the fifth and sixth centuries 
B. C., and our own is a long and dreary one, in which theories of the 
sacredness of the souls of Chinese ancestors, and the mysticism and fatal- 
ism of Taoism, almost indefinitely postponed the revival of learning. 
Buddha, 560-477 B. C., with his doctrines of love and reincarnation 
modified Chinese thought somewhat further, whereas very little attention 
was paid to the book on anatomy and physiology written by the Yellow 
Emperor, Huang Ti. 1 The Chinese mind was set on philosophy. 
Women fell behind the men in medical study, and even in obstetrics they 
bungled fearfully. 

Until the nineteenth century conditions in Siam and Japan were no 
better than in China; but in the former countries modern methods of 
education were somewhat more quickly adopted. In remote parts of 
all the Far East, however, many old customs still prevail; they drink 
blood to cure leprosy and eat blood-bread to cure consumption. Only 
gradually are they realizing, in villages where malaria has always been 
a curse, that prayers and prickings are less beneficial than mosquito 
extermination and the large doses of quinine brought in by the western 

1 Sarton, G., op. eit., p. 122. 



Among the Persians of the centuries before Christ there were herb 
doctors, knife doctors, and word doctors, a convenient classification even 
today. Among their learned people, about 800 B. C., there was a famous 
queen Semiramis. She is claimed also by the Assyrians, for she ruled 
wisely and well, “a dove in the closet, an eagle in the field.” Her sub- 
jects, women as well as men, were urged to study whatever was taught 
at coeducational schools, and some of them went to Egypt to study 
medicine at Sai's or Heliopolis. They worshipped fire and earth, the 
sun and water. They built their temples near clear streams, or pools, or 
springs, and of their thirteen divinities five were women. Ormuzd was 
the god of medicine, and he taught his disciples everything worth while 
for mortals to know. Herodotus and Hippocrates tell us that the 
Persians were great gymnasts, loved perfumes and hot baths, and were 
temperate in their diet. Their chief goddess was Immortality, and, like 
Ormuzd, she also taught medicine to her pupils. She had five methods 
of treatment, by words (law), surgery, plants, texts, and righteousness. 
Like other divinities, she lived in trees, charms, water, fire, stones, the 
moon, and stars. Adisina, a wind goddess, could blow away sickness, 
and Agastya could heal many diseases with medicines. 1 One goddess of 
the water was able to purify the procreative organs and bring easy de- 
livery to the mother and provide milk for the baby. Another was the giver 
of numerout offspring. All of these goddesses were prototypes of mortals. 

W hether, among the Persians, women doctors commanded the great 
fees such as were paid by Darius, the King, to the man who cured his 
dislocated ankle (a bowl of gold coins from every wife in the harem) we 
do not know: but probably the woman who lanced the abscessed breast 
of Queen Atossa was not less liberally rewarded. And we cannot believe 
that the women who attended the queen in her confinements, or saved 
her from the miscarriages resulting from the ergot poisoning then 
common, were forgotten in the distribution of gifts. It is said in the 
Zendavesta of the Parsees that in 400 B. C. there was a terrible epidemic 
of poisoning from the ergot of rye when every woman miscarried “from 
noxious gases that cause pregnant women to drop the fruit of their womb 
and die in childbed.” 

There is an old Persian Romance, Sydrac and Boctus, which deals 
with medical and other sciences, in the form of a dialogue between a 
certain king of the Bactrians named Boctus, who ruled over a large part 
of the country between Persia and India, and a philosopher and astrologer 

1 Bans, .J. II., " Grundrics der Oeschichte (ler Medicin,” 1876, p. 30. 

A Mediaeval Persian Anatomical Drawing. 

(This ivas copied repeatedly, by Mansur and others, until as late as the 

17th Century.) 


named Sydrac, a “descendant of Japhet, 842 years after Noah’s flood.” * 1 
Translated into French this story was called “ Le liure de la fontaine de 
toutes sciences Its series of questions and answers were taken from 
Pythagoras and Aristotle but given to Sydrac “by divine wisdom.” 
Eventually, as the book was often translated and retranslated through 
the centuries, the king was converted to Christianity, but what interests 
us is the description of the human uterus as it was taught six hundred 
years before Christ in the East. Sydrac tells Boctus (in the English 
translation of the late 15th century) : 

. . . .the wombe 

If thatt thou understonde can 
Hath VII chambrez and no moo, 

And eche is departed other fro, 

And eche may have in eche thoo 
A childe. And with the sevenn goo. 

The wombe. 

The printed poem begins with the familiar lines, “I am light as any roe 
to praise women where that I go,” usually thought to have been written 
by St. Bernard of Cluny, who also wrote many beautiful hymns. 

Unfortunately, of the Scythians, or of the fabulous Amazon women, 
barbaric tribes living between Persia and Greece in the regions to the 
east and north of the Black Sea, neither Herodotus nor Elippocrates left 
many records. We simply know that the state of their civilization was 
not unlike that of the Laplanders today, although they were by no means 
phlegmatic or stupid, for their women were the bravest of warriors; and 
since men were merely tolerated once a year for the sake of perpetuating 
the race, all medical and civic duties fell to women. The queens of the 
Amazons are known traditionally as Penthesileia and Antiope and Hippo- 
lyte. They were said to have fought with, or against, Theseus and 
Achilles. Whatever may be the truth about these magnificent women 
we are glad that the sculptors of Greece have given us their ideas of 
such superb female figures as we see in high relief on the marble 
temple at Bassae, in the Peloponnesus, and on the tomb of Mausolus of 
Caria. The latter were placed there by Artemisia, his wife, who was, 
incidentally, one of the most learned of Greeks — a woman who knew all 
the medicinal herbs of her country and named some of the best. 

However intelligent these peoples of the East may have been before 
the Christian era, they became degenerate as time went on, either from 
wars and pestilences ^pr from the aridity of their lands due to the cutting 

1 Ward, H. L. D., “Catalogue of Romances in the British Museum,” 1883, vol. 

I, pp. 1-79; Book IV, pp. 60-79; Harl. MS. 4294, on paper, late XV century. 



down of the forests and the silting of the rivers. Their educational 
institutions were closed from lack of pupils or of teachers; and their 
cultural habits became slovenly until only sterile traditions were left. 
Eventually, as Mohammedans or Christians, they began life anew, as we 
shall find in other chapters; but where a religion of fatalism, like that 
of the Moslems, rules the life of a nation its people sink into intellectual 

To sum up: from the second to the fourth millenniums before Christ 
medical knowledge among the peoples of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and 
Greece was substantially alike. In general scholars now believe that the 
Sumerians, on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, were the first to 
evolve the theory of the personification of demons of disease, with the 
physician as seer, astrologer, interpreter of dreams, and general am- 
bassador of the gods. 

In recent years excavations in the valleys of these rivers have brought 
to light evidences of an extraordinarily high degree of civilization exist- 
ing there as far back as six thousand years ago. Jewelry, gold orna- 
ments, pottery, and ivory carvings, as well as elaborate household furni- 
ture, show that their considerable commerce was with the nations to the 
east rather than to the west. From these carvings it appears that many 
of their medical deities were female; and that, two thousand years before 
the days of Abraham, the Sumerians and Babylonians built great towers 
and temples of brick, and understood sanitation, the value of baths and 
of sunlight. In the grave of Queen S’nubad of Ur, 3500 B. C., there 
were buried not only food for her journey, but prescriptions for stopping 
pain, written on little bricks, and surgical instruments of flint and 
bronze, in addition to her toilet articles, and charms and amulets against 
the demons of disease. 

The Assyrians had thousands of gods; scholars have found about 
four thousand in Ur, Nineveh, and Babylon. They also worshipped the 
sun, moon, and stars, and trees, and pillars. They were awed by all 
supernatural phenomena, but their priests could appease individual gods 
provided they did not happen to be too obstinate. Their philosophy, 
however, was fatalistic and comforting. The great Assyrian goddess of 
medicine was Ishtar, or Mummu, the mother god. Gula, the goddess 
of death and resurrection, was frequently called the “chief physician.” 1 
Ea, the fish god, was a powerful medical god who dwelt near the sea 
coast. He carried a little bag of rancid butter for salve, and a pine cone 

1 Langdon, S., “Enc. Brit.,” 14th ed., vol. 2, p. 858. 


for medicine. Like the queen, he also had flint and bronze knives, razors, 
pincers, probes and needles of bone and ivory, and cautery stones for 
stopping bleeding. Neither Baal nor Nebo was of so much help in sick- 
ness as was Ea with the help of his female colleagues, Gula and Ishtar. 
The latter — often called the weeping goddess, because of her sympathy 
for suffering — was the goddess of love, childbirth, general healing, and 
especially of woman’s diseases, as well as of war. She was thus as im- 
portant in Assyria as Minerva Medica was in Greece. Unfortunately, 
at a later time wild and immoral orgies were associated with her worship, 
but this is not uncommon when nations become degenerate. 

To Gula, on the other hand, there was imputed nothing lewd. 
“The great physician” is depicted seated on a gold throne, wearing a long 
skirted dress trimmed with fringe. She sometimes lias a crown, some- 
times merely a wreath of plaited hair above her brows, but, like the 
Greek gods of medicine, she has in her hand a wand. In bas-reliefs we 
see processions of priests and priestesses coming to her with petitions 
from their patients, and sometimes the suppliants wear the masks of 
fierce beasts to denote the demon of disease. Gula became associated 
with Tammuz, the god of death and resurrection; and when the great 
king Assurbanipal was reigning, in the seventh century before Christ, he 
sent to Gula to implore her to cure his little son “from some insect-borne 
disease.” Litanies were sung in her temples to celebrate her cures, for 
even in Babylonia advertising in certain ways was worth while ; but, if 
she failed to cure her patients, it required the intercession of a thousand 
lesser gods to protect the sufferer from the seven devils, half man and 
half animal, with the heads of lions, rams, birds or serpents which 
brought diseases. 

Lay men and women, singers, magicians, diviners, and psalmists 
sometimes got the ear of Gula against the female demon Lamashtu, who 
plagued women in childbirth. Sometimes Gula told the attendants to 
rub the patient with salt, dough, water, or herbs, to serve as an atone- 
ment in absorbing the disease. Sometimes she ordered vegetable remedies 
or certain incantations, and sometimes she prescribed antidotes for 
poisons, of which she knew a long list. She understood the symptoms 
of all diseases caused by “the worm” and taught them to her devotees 
along with lessons in divination by the liver of sheep, and the laws for 
the interpretation of dreams. 

From the great library of Assurbanipal, dating more than 600 years 
B. C., have been recovered some 800 prescriptions on clay biscuit-shaped 
pads. They give the treatment for sore eyes, sleeplessness, skin diseases, 


I 2 

and many other maladies. Amulets have been found shaped like a barrel 
or cylinder or the head of a ram, such as were worn centuries earlier by 
Queen Shubad ; and on these amulets, inscribed in almost microscopic 
letters, are prayers for safe confinement and easy delivery. Several 
abdominal bands such as were worn by pregnant women have also come 
to light telling the name of the owner, as for example: “My name is 
Adad, the favorite of Bel”; she prays for pity because of her unblemished 
life. Near the foundations of the temples of Ishtar have been recovered 
many finger rings, beads, charms, children’s amulets, and ornaments once 
worn as prophylactics against sickness; and these contain the name of the 
special god or goddess who best understood the trouble, and a pre- 
scription for its cure. 

A specimen of these prescriptions, probably dating as early as 
Abraham or earlier, may be of interest as showing the fashion in ancient 
remedies. “If a man’s eyes are affected with dryness, he shall rub an 
onion, drink it in beer, and apply oil to his eyes.” Or, castor oil cooked 
in beer is to be poured into the eye, or a hot antimony needle is inserted 
into the cornea to cure an inflammation. Pine cone gum was used as a 
lotion ; orpiment, made of gold and the yellow sulphide of arsenic, was 
common ; and sometimes the arsenic was cooked in a curd made of harlot’s 
milk mixed with lizard’s dung. For diseases of the head the Sumerians 
used various ointments and lotions; and for headaches there were pre- 
scriptions for cold lotions containing balsams and hyoscyamus. For the 
nose there was cedar oil and myrrh ; for lice and itch, sulphur and cedar 
oil; for scabies, millet seeds in dry dove’s dung; for dyeing the hair 
black there was a preparation of galls mixed with certain parts of the 
body of a snake and a few insects dissolved in oil of cypress. To 
these must be added the proper legend praying for the favor of the par- 
ticular god or goddess 1 , such as this: “O clear eye, O doubly clear eye, 
O eye of clear sight! O darkened eye, O doubly darkened eye, O eye 
of darkened sight; like a cup of sour wine thrown away, Gula quicken 
the recovery, thy gift.” 

Many bricks having such prescriptions may be seen in the British 
and other archeological museums, and on some of them we may still 
read the laws governing the fees of the physicians. The Code of Ham- 
murabi, written about 2250 B. C., on a pillar, tells us not only that a 
physician was well paid for curing a patient, but that in case of failure or 
clumsiness he must suffer certain penalties, even death, or lose one or 

1 Thompson, R. C., “Assyrian Medical Texts,” 1924. 

A Sumerian Priestess Physician, About 4,000 B. C. 

In her right hand she holds a dove, in her left (probably) a torch t 
( sign of a midwife). (From the Musee du Louvre). 


both his hands, or pay a large sum of money to the family in case the 
patient was a servant and the doctor had not treated him according to 
rule. Even the wife and children of a surgeon might have to die for 
his lack of success in the treatment of a patient. 

As for the actual practice of medicine by women, we find that one 
who chose not to marry might devote herself as priestess-physician to 
Ea or to Gula, learn to interpret oracles, recite the proper prayers at 
the proper time, and thus vie with Ishtar or Gula in healing the diseases 
of mortals by remedies as well as by charms and incantations. She must 
know the names and attributes of the healing gods and of the demons, 
what effigies to bury under the floor of the patient’s house, what in- 
scriptions to write on the bricks in order to win the favor of Gula, what 
to do against Lamashtu, must understand the causes of sterility, and how 
to alleviate the pains of labor. Pomegranates and models of eyes were 
generally buried beneath the floor, along with images of the gods, to 
ward off the evil eye and to insure strength and fertility. Prayers, when 
not immediately answered, were to be repeated louder and louder lest 
the god had gone away and could not hear. 

The following is an example of such a petition : “All the evil that 
is in my body, may it be carried off with the water of thy body, the 
washings of thy hands, and may the river carry it down stream.” And 
another comes from the library of Ashurnasipal, dated 883 B. C. and 
copied evidently from a much older brick ; it is a prayer for relief of 
toothache caused by a “worm”: 

The marshes created the worm. 

Came the worm (and) wept before Shamash the sun god, 

Before Ea (the water god) came her tears. 

What wilt thou give me for food, 

What wilt thou give me to eat? 

I will give thee dried bones, 

And scented wood. 

What are dried bones to me 
And scented wood? 

Let me drink among the teeth, 

And set me on the gums; 

That I may devour the blood of the teeth 
And of the gums destroy the strength, 

Then shall I hold the bolt of the door. 

So must thou say this, “O worm! 

May Ea smite thee with the might of his fist.” 

The healer should lay upon the tooth certain herbs mixed with oil, 
while repeating this incantation thrice. 1 

1 Thompson. R. C., op. cit.; also Boulton, W. II., “Babylon, Assyria and 
Israel,” 1925. 



Among these ancient Babylonian bricks and tablets and pillars is 
found the oldest story of the creation of the world and of the deluge. 
In the latter tale a mortal named Gilgamesh seeks to avoid death, for 
“so long as houses are built, so long as water runs to the sea, so long 
will death come to man.” Gilgamesh is told by “the ancestor” to build 
an ark because a universal deluge is about to appear. He became so 
seasick in the ark that he prayed to the “ wife of the ancestor” to heal 
him. She repeated magic words and gave him water and a plant of im- 
mortality, but a serpent appeared and carried off the plant, so “Gilgamesh 
went to the place where the worm devours all, and was clothed with 

Evidently “worms” and insects were then thought to be the cause 
of all the pains of fever and abscesses, and that only by the combination 
of religion and medicine could they be cured. 


H AVING seen what appears to have been the status of women in 
medicine among those who lived in the valleys of the Tigris, 
Euphrates and Indus, in the centuries before the birth of Christ, we may 
find it interesting to turn to Egypt and the valley of the Nile. 

Diodorus Siculus, a historian of the time of Julius Caesar, studied 
the customs and traditions related by Herodotus and other earlier writers, 
and lie tells us that there were several distinct periods in Egypt during 
which women dominated men in almost every respect. At times 
women held public office, as in Sparta, while men did the cooking 
and weaving or went off to hunt or to fight. In 4000 B. C. the succes- 
sion of females to the throne was made valid, and it seems to have been 
a queen named Nitocris who appointed the wise man Imhotep, in 3133 
B. C., an alleged descendant of the god Ptah, 1 as court physician. This 
was perhaps an innovation and a reward to Imhotep and Ptah for writing 
medical books with instructions for improving the health of the people. 
The^e books of instructions were among the oldest books in the world. 
But an even earlier tradition tells 11s that there was a great king in 
Memphis, on the Nile, named Teti, 4366 B. C., who was a skillful 
anatomist. 2 According to the authority of Budge, the Egyptologist, Teti 

' “The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep,” translated bv P>. G. Gunn, 1909. 

3 Budge, E. A. \V., “The Nile,” 1912, p. 29. 


1 5 

or Teta lived at the time of Cheops, the builder of the second pyramid, 
3733 B. C., but a thousand years more or less makes little difference to 
us now. At any rate, archeologists agree that Teti dissected human as 
well as animal bodies before he wrote his book on anatomy. 

As elsewhere, the gods played an important part in medical treat- 
ment. Isis was the great goddess of medicine. It was she who gathered 
up the slain body of Osiris and mummified it to save the pieces intact. 
Her sisters Nephthys and Neith were queens of the night and protected 
mortals from the pains that trouble them after dark. Sekhmet, the 
wife of the medical god Ptah, had the head of a lioness. She was the 
bone-setter and therapeutist, and saved from fire as well as from sick- 
ness. Bes, the smiling little god with a Mongolian face, presided over the 
birth house at the temples where the women were confined, and Hathor, 
the cow goddess, fed the infant and cured sterile mothers. Ubastet, 
Sekhmet’s sister, was an obstetric goddess and Meskhenet, of “the bi- 
cornate uterus” (Galen believed that the human uterus was bicornate) 
had charge of the hot stones over which women crouched in labor. 1 

All these gods could harm as well as heal mortals; 2 hence the need 
of priestesses or wise women to procure their good will. Some of these 
priestesses had picture books with which to work, others received special 
oracles from their spiritual mistresses and learned how to address the 
gods properly. 3 The appeal to Isis was not unlike the appeal to the 
Virgin today: “Hail Isis, deliver me from pain, from death ... as thou 
didst deliver Horus, thy son.” This was repeated hundreds of times 
followed by “Come remedies, expel my evil.” To Sekhmet or Sekhet 
the priestesses appealed in the same way for a purgative or for the re- 
moval of a tapeworm. 

It is evident from the records that to the Egyptians it seemed natural 
that women should be trained to become healers of disease. They had 
always been admitted to the royal medical schools. Pliny and many 
other writers tell us about the old school at Heliopolis, or On (near 
modern Cairo), which was already a very ancient foundation when 
Moses and his wife studied there. Its graduates were given public 
offices with good salaries, and they treated the poor in what we might 

1 Cumston, C. G., “An Introduction to the History of Medicine,” 1926. 

2 The great god Amen-Ra, the sun god, was father of Osiris. Both carried 
the symbols of resurrection and immortality. There was also a female monster 
or demon, named Amam or Arnmit, the Devourer, or eater of the dead, a 
crocodile-headed, lion-bodied, hippopotamus. 

’ “Guide to the Egyptian Galleries of the British Museum,” 1930, p. 202. 



call free dispensaries. Euripides and Herodotus wrote eulogies on the 
intelligence of the Egyptian women and their skill in industry, com- 
merce, medicine, and law. The first woman doctor of “the old king- 
dom ’ in the fifth dynasty, or about 2730 B. C., practiced during the 
reign of a queen Neferirika-ra. Her son was a high priest at whose 
tomb is a tablet describing his mother as the “Chief Physician.” There 
was also a medical school at Memphis, where Ptah and Imhotep, or 
Imhetep, were revered gods and teachers. 

At Sai's, near the sea on the Rosetta mouth of the Nile, was the 
woman’s college where gynecology and obstetrics were specialties. 
There is an inscription found at Sai's which delights the heart of 
a modern woman doctor: “I have come from the school of medicine at 
Hel iopolis, and have studied at the woman’s school at Sai's where the 
divine mothers have taught me how to cure diseases,” showing quite 
plainly that medical women were professors of Sai's and received pupils 
from all over the known world. 1 

The tomb of Ptah, the medical god, at Sakkara, near Memphis, is 
one of the most elaborate and beautiful in Egypt, but it is especially 
interesting to physicians, for it shows the life of a medical practitioner 
five thousand years ago. In a tomb in the Valley of the Kings is the 
picture of a woman doctor named Merit Ptah, the mother of a high 
priest, who is calling her “the Chief Physician,” although neither her 
costume nor her bearing indicate her medical profession or her importance. 

As to the student’s textbooks we have already seen that they had 
Ted's work on anatomy which was as useful for the cmbalmers as for 
the surgeons. According to these lessons in anatomy we find that the 
ideas of the functions of the organs and veins were as crude as a child’s 
idea of a telephone. The students were taught that there were two 
blood vessels in the head, probably arteries, through which the head 
drew breath from the heart and carried it all over the body; there were 
also two blood vessels in each leg and arm, in the forehead, neck, eyelid, 
nostril, etc., and two in the left ear “through which the breath of death 
enters the body.” 

In an Egyptian textbook on medicine we find diseases of the ab- 
domen treated first, then those of the eyes and the urine, then worm 

Sarton says ( Isis, 15, 1031, p. 357,) that Darius (521-485 B.C.) ordered Uza- 
horresenet to reorganize the medical school at Sais and to provide it with all 
necessary hooks and equipment. Sais then remained the center of medical ex- 
change between the Greeks and Egyptians and others until the founding of 
the school at Alexandria. 

Hatshepsut, Most Famous of all the Women Pharaohs 
of Egypt. Time of Moses, 1500 B. C. 


diseases, erysipelas, epilepsy, burns and dropsy. There was also in very 
early times a great encyclopedia of knowledge in forty-two books, in- 
cluding law and medicine and every other subject. It purported to have 
been written by the dog-headed god Thoth, who corresponded to Hermes 
of the Greeks, and among the volumes were four on medicine, including 
one on gynecology and one on eye diseases. Just when these books were 
compiled it is impossible to say, but they are a part of the material of 
the Ebers papyrus, the contents of which go far back, although under 
their later title of the Hermetic books of Hermes Trismegistus, they may 
have been written in the third century A. D. 1 At any rate they have 
much more to do with magic, for which the Egyptians were famous,, 
than with medicine. 

Among the medical papyri found in Egypt that of Georg Ebers 
is perhaps the most important. It was formerly supposed to have been 
written by the mythical Imhotep, in red and black hieroglyphics or 
picture letters which fill one hundred or more pages. It was found at 
Thebes across the Nile from Luxor by this Leipzig professor and arch- 
eologist, Ebers, in 1874, ar *d it is now thought to date from the sixteenth 
century before Christ. Its subjects include medicine, surgery and anato- 
my, the body being divided into three times twelve parts, each under a 
sign of the zodiac. Its remedies for pain and sickness include substances 
from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, everything from ink 
to spinal fluid, but even so it may not be as old as the surgical papyrus 
found by Edwin Smith, 2 or the Book of the Dead. However, its topics 
range from the bite of a crocodile to procidentia uteri, and its animal 
remedies contain such substances as one-thirty-second part of the tail of 
a mouse, a beaten ostrich egg, and cream of bullock’s hide. For dental 
surgeons there were rules for hooking out teeth, for filling cavities with 
gold, for making false teeth and bridging spaces. For throat specialists 
there were prescriptions for fumigations to cure “the ball over which 
the patient can not swallow.” One of these prescriptions is somewhat 

1 For a discussion of this subject see Thorndike, Lynn, “History of Magic and 
Experimental Science,” 1923, vol. I, p. 289. 

2 The Edwin Smith papyrus deals with in juries, and in their treatment magic 
has almost no part. Advice for not touching inoperable cases is clear. Some 
archeologists put its date at 3000 B. C., but as the original document is lost its 
date is uncertain. Among its treatments we find that the Egyptians had lint 
for absorbing blood, plugs or swabs of linen for packing the nose, bandages, 
adhesive strips, stitches of thread, cauteries, splints, etc. Glosses of later 
writers mention the significance of the pulse as indicating the action of the 
heart, also they speak of the throbbing vessels in the brain and its convolutions, 
its covering, its fluid, and paralysis that comes from injury to its substance. 



like one written on a stone now in the Metropolitan Museum in New 
\ork; and it calls tor lapis lazuli, green stones, and “ikybu,” Ethiopian 
schist and wine, well mixed and ground to powder, then to be burnt and 
inhaled. I his stone is 4 inches square and half an inch thick. It may 
have been written by a I hebes physician in his office more than three 
thousand years ago, and quite likely was used by priests and priestesses, 
women doctors and men doctors, in the dispensaries. 

I he Edwin Smith papyrus, now in Chicago, is 1S4V2 inches long 
and 13 inches wide, having five hundred lines dealing with surgical 
injuries of the upper part of the body and spine, and, as has been said, it 
may be even older than that of Ebers. Evidently the ancient Egyptians 
did not lack textbooks or teachers of medicine, for the people of each 
century based their work on the materials of the preceding centuries, 
adding little new. 

1 herefore we can easily understand how it was that women and 
men studied medicine together and used the same remedies in the same 
way. In a mortuary chapel at I hebes is a picture of a slave girl of 
about 1420 B. C. skillfully operating on the foot of a woman patient 
while the men of the family look on in evident admiration and sympathy. 
Perhaps the slave girl was an apprentice to her mistress; but the picture 
shows what was probably one of the common customs in Egypt under 
the great Pharaohs at the time of Moses. Surgical pictures are not rare 
on the walls of the temples or tombs. At Kom Ombo, for example, 
south of I hebes on the Nile, is a temple on the walls of which we find 
portraits of Cleopatra, as the reigning Pharaoh, with Julius Caesar and 
their son, Caesarion. Ptolemv XIII stands near, apparently in the care 
of five physicians, all deities, of whom two are women, Isis and Sekhmet, 
along with Ptali, the ibis god, and Horus of the hawk body and head. 
As 1 hoth, the ibis god, is generally the scribe of the gods and famous 
for his cures of stomach ache, we may imagine what was Ptolemy's 
disease. Each of these gods hands the key of life to the sick man and 
Isis gives him a branch of her favorite vervain with its spike of blue 
flowers. The scene is laid in an operating room in which the long table 
is covered with surgical instruments: scalpels, bleeding-cups, forceps, 
cauteries, hooks, a trephine, sponges, needles, jars of ointment, splints, 
containers for the poppy juice and mandrake to ease pain, castor oil for 
lubrication, and materials for poultices such as burdock leaves, mullein 
plants and milk-weeds, which together with senna and tamarinds still 
grow within the temple precincts. 


We know the name of at least one surgeon, Hr’nkhm-Say, whose 
tomb is in the Memphis region. This surgeon lived about 4500 years 
ago, in the sixth dynasty, and in one of the wall pictures of the tomb we 
see him sitting in front of a patient whose arm he is about to cut with 
a square stone knife. Other patients are waiting, one of whom is im- 
patiently holding his aching arm and whimpering that he is in a hurry 
and that the king had sent him. There are pictures showing surgeons 
and nurses lancing boils, women midwives circumcising babies, assistants 
operating on feet, and so on ; but the illustrations of major operations 
have been destroyed. We are told, however, that women surgeons per- 
formed Caesarian section, removed cancerous breasts, and, according to 
Herodotus, who was in Egypt in the fifth century B. C., they were 
especially skillful with their stone knives and also expert in the use of 
splints for setting broken bones. 

As for gynecological writings there is a papyrus discovered by Sir 
Flinders Petrie, called the Kahun papyrus, dating from about 2500 B. C., 
which deals with this subject and with certain veterinary diseases. It 
contains no magic or incantations, and we may suppose that it was 
written for the students at Sa'fs. In it we find that the diagnosis of 
pregnancy was left to certain women specialists who gave a prognosis 
of the sex of an unborn child based on the color of the pregnant woman’s 
face — if green the baby would be a boy. If a woman had spots before 
her eyes she would be sterile. A test for sterility was made by mixing 
watermelon with milk of the mother of a boy. This was given to an 
anxious patient to eat, after which if she vomited she would bear a child ; 
if she had flatus she would be sterile. Sterility was treated with glands 
of animals and by the performance of certain exercises, dysmenorrhea 
with hot drinks of herbs which women specialists raised in their own 
gardens. In the medical school women had studied female anatomy, 
as has been said, along with the art of mummifying bodies, and it 
was they who circumcised the boys and taught mothers how to wean 
their babies, sent pregnant women to the birth-houses at the temples at 
the proper time, and then, with the help of the gods Bes and Hathor and 
Isis, they guided the labor. Priests on the roof of the temple were 
meanwhile consulting the sun, moon, or stars for the horoscope of the 
infant. If the labor were difficult and unusually long, the crocodile god 
would have to be summoned, and the aid of all the gods, as consultants, 
might be loudly invoked. Their statues stood in shrines in the most re- 
mote and the darkest part of the temple where their answers, uttered by 



priests on the roof, could with difficulty be distinguished only by the 
priestesses who then would carry out the gods’ commands, to “burn 
turpentine near the patient’s abdomen,’’ or to “rub the abdomen with a 
mixture of oil of saffron and beer,” or to “mix marble dust and vinegar 
and place it on the abdomen” to ease the pains of labor. 

During the hours of labor the patient crouched over sizzling hot 
stones or, while sitting on the birth-stool, submitted to the pommelings 
of the nurses; but her own sufferings mattered nothing if only her 
baby had a good horoscope. The Egyptians were experts in astrology 
and astronomy, which sciences they had taken and developed from the 
Babylonians. 1 

Children’s diseases were treated according to certain specified rules 
by men or women as doctors or priests. Even the diet was prescribed 
by law and it contained a liberal allowance of fruit, fish, and vegetables, 
and probably broad beans and lupins, which are still grown in Egypt 
as the staple of diet. The bodies of the little naked children were oiled 
with castor oil to prevent poisoning from insects, but, as Sir William 
Willcocks has pointed out, it may be that mosquitoes do not poison human 
beings where beans grow in plenty. One curious custom among the 
Egyptians of long ago was to smear the heads of children with an oint- 
ment made from the pads of the feet of dogs, the hoofs of asses, and 
crushed dates, probably to cover up and kill the vermin. Worms were 
expelled by fern seeds and pumpkin seeds. 2 3 

There is an interesting and pathetic picture on the walls of the 
tomb of Ramses III, in the barren Valley of the Kings, near Tutan- 
khamen'^ tomb, which shows a father taking his little son to Isis to be 
healed, but Isis turns her head away and raises her left hand as a sign 
that the little fellow mu t die. In another picture Isis, in better humor, 
gives a new necklace to a little princess who is having a hard time with 
teething, and while giving the present she also holds the child’s chin and 
looks carefully into the sore mouth in a very sympathetic and human 
way. Another interesting picture of a child of 3500 years ago shows 
us a boy with a withered leg whom a priestess presents to Isis together 
with the appropriate offerings and prayers. Isis heals the boy and we 

1 Murrav, M. A., “The Bundle of Life.” Ancient Egypt, part 3, p. 65-73; 

“Isis," p.' 515, 1931. 

3 "VVehrli, G. A., “Don IVcnen Tier V olksmedizin unci Notwencliffkeit einer 
(jesrhichtlichen Bet rnchtnng .rtc eize derselben," in “Essays on the History of 
Medicine,” presented to Carl SudhofF, on his seventieth birthday, 1924, p. 369; 
Jayne, \V. A., “The Healing Gods of Ancient Civilization,” 1925. 

The Most Ancient Known Pictorial Record of a Woman 


An Egyptian stele, representing a woman doctor presenting her patient 
to Isis, with offerings. The boy has had poliomyelitis. Isis cures him, as 
we see from the smaller figure at the lower 7’ight hand corner. About 

3000 B. C. 


see him again with both his legs straight and sound. Gifts to Isis were 
always white — flowers, or berries, or garments ; and the rules for approach 
to her altar were quite definite. The priestess-physician must stand be- 
fore her altar or statue impersonating the patient and saying, “O Isis, 
thou great charmer, heal me ... I am little and lamentable . . . deliver me 
from typhonic things and from deadly fevers of every sort,” etc. Then 
Isis would perhaps answer, “Make a plaster of lettuce, one part; dates, 
one part; boil in oil and apply” — to the abdomen, for example. If the 
patient had an abscess, Isis might say, “Take crushed dates, beans, resin 
of acanthus, lint of linen, sweet myrrh, sweet beer, and apply as a plaster.” 
For heart trouble or dropsy, the advice was, “If the blood has stopped 
and does not move, bring thou it in motion . . . and apply this most excel- 
lent plaster of ox tallow, crocus seeds, coriander, myrrh, and aager tree, 
pulverized.” Or, as we have already seen, the priestess-physician would 
begin with “Hail Isis, deliver my patient from pain and demons,” etc. 

Many of these prescriptions on papyrus or bricks are now in the 
great museums of the world. They date from the time of Cheops to 
the time of the Ptolemies, and they contain the rules for making not 
only plasters but also infusions, and powders made from every known 
plant and every portion of the carcass of an animal and its excreta. 
Many prescriptions were long and intricate and called for dozens of 
ingredients; but far pleasanter than nauseating drugs were the charms 
and necklaces that could be worn to ward off the demons of disease. 
Historians tell us that if the doctors “gave up” a patient he was placed 
beside the road for consultation with the passers who might have seen 
some wonderful cures of such a case. The Egyptian pharmacopoeia 
was memorized by the learned people as well as by the doctors, and those 
who had gardens raised medicinal plants for the public as well as for 
themselves. There are still many of these old herbs growing in waste 
places in the Nile valley, although every inch of fertile land is supposed 
to be cultivated commercially. 

Among the most learned Egyptians the queens easily led in all 
medical matters. From the days of Queen Mentuhetep (2300 B. C.) to 
Hatshepsut (1500 B. C.), almost one thousand years later, and then 
nearly fifteen hundred years more to the bewitching Cleopatra of the 
first century before Christ, women rulers were always students of medi- 
cine; and there were always women doctors, nurses, and slaves who 
undertook the care of the sick and the preparation of medicines. There 
is in the Berlin museum what is probably the traveling medicine kit of 



Mcntuhetep, a queen of the Xlth dynasty at Thebes, about 2200 or 2300 
B. C. It has been called a toilet case by some critics; but it contains a 
large cedar chest ou *fc<ic a bamboo case within which is a covered wicker 
chest which seems to oe much too large for usual toilet purposes, especial- 
ly if compared with the toilet articles of other queens. It holds five 
large alabaster jars for ointments, one of serpentine for tinctures, two 
measuring spoons, a mixing dish and several dried herbs, and was proba- 
bly buried with the queen for the use of her large retinue in the next 
world. Her cosmetic box and her best wig were also placed near her 
mummy, and though we have no portrait statue of this old queen we 
may picture her as proud of her personal ability to he helpful to her 
subjects in time of suffering. 

Unfortunately, the medicine cases of Queen Hatshepsut and Cleo- 
patra have not been found. Hatshepsut s virtues and her great learning 
are blazoned on her obelisks in New \ ork and London, and also at 
Luxor in Egypt ; her beautiful and intelligent portrait statue may be 
seen in many museums as well as at her temple of Deir-El-Bahari, on 
the Nile. Other likenesses and eulogies of Hatshepsut were erased by 
her brother and successors, and their own substituted in her place, so 
that for many centuries it was thought that her good deeds and peaceful 
reign were theirs. In recent years Hatshepsut has been credited with 
great buildings, obelisks, and temples, as well as with keeping peace all 
over Egypt and the contiguous countries, and today it is suggested that 
it was she who discovered the baby Moses in the bulrushes. Professor 
Garstang, the archeologist, has recently found in Jericho scarabs and 
signet rings indicating that the Exodus of the Israelites, as told in the 
Bible, occurred immediately after her reign, partly because of her 
brother's jealousy of Moses. 

Hatshepsut was as great a queen as Elizabeth of England. She was 
a pacifist in days of war and plunder, a serious philosopher in times of 
superstition and magic. Her temple was dedicated to many gods but 
chiefly to Hathor, the cow-headed god of mothers and babies. On the 
walls of the temple birth-house we see the mother of Hatshepsut before 
the birth of her daughter, accompanied by the ram and frog gods, im- 
ploring aid from the ibis-god in her confinement, and then proceeding 
into the sanctum of Hathor where the baby was born. Later we see 
this baby taking milk from Hathor, under whose protection she was to 
rule as Pharaoh. The inscriptions on the temple walls tell the story of 
Hatshepsut’s peaceful conquests of the people of Punt, further south,. 

The Exterior of Medicine Chest, Egypt, 2300 B. C. 

Objects from the Medicine Chest of An Egyptian Queen, 

2300 B. C. 

By permission of the Berlin Museum. 


the devotion of her various subjects, and their intelligence in agriculture 
and the arts. We may be sure that the three great medical schools 
flourished during her reign, for we know that she must have sent Moses 
and his wife Zipporah to study at Heliopolis. Libraries and observa- 
tories also flourished, while sanitation and hygiene were not forgotten. 
She had enormous gardens of herbs, parks, and swimming pools for her 
people, where they were encouraged to amuse themselves and to eat her 
fruits and imported luxuries. 

We have seen what were the usual remedies used at the time of 
these queens — rather vile tasting mixtures most of them must have been. 
Sir Frederick Treves has said that many people prefer strong medicines, 
the more pungent and disgusting, the better and the more miraculous 
the cure. The Egyptians raised their own emetics, diuretics, cathartics, 
sedatives and vermifuges. They had squills and copper salts, and hem- 
lock, groves of date palms and fig trees, acres of opium, and many other 
remedies which we still use in the twentieth century. 

Not much advance was made in medical ways and means after 
Hatshepsut’s time. It was left for the scientists of the far West and 
North to clarify the pharmacopoeia, and to find the key to the hiero- 
glyphics that tell us the story of the Egyptian queens and priestesses and 
other medical women. In 1904 the first director of the American 
Mission Hospital at Tanta, between the Rosetta and the Damietta 
branches of the Nile, installed a woman doctor named Lawrence at the 
Tanta hospital, and from there, like the women doctors of old, she went 
all over the adjacent country healing the sick and teaching hygiene.. 
This hospital was built with American money contributed by the women 
and children of the United States. 1 Budge says that hundreds of patients 
annually fill the beds and thousands are treated at the dispensary and in 
the daily clinics. The physicians, as well as the nurses at the clinics, are 
all women, and we may feel that the work of the old Egyptian teach- 
ers is continuing after the lapse of many centuries. There was a time 
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Egyptian mummies 
were ground to powder for medicine and, as Sir Thomas Browne wrote, 
“What time hath spared, avarice now consumeth ; Mizrain cures wounds 
and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.” 

Budge, E. A. Wallis, op. eit., p. 416. 




^ I RANGELS enough, pious Hebrews believed in only one god, the 
great and powerful Jehovah, and in none of the lesser gods of the 
Assyrians or Egyptians. From the time that Abraham left Ur there 
are few allusions to the gods of his fathers, but many instances of the 
return of the Israelites to their old idols which the prophets deplored. 

Of the medicine of the Hebrews much can be learned from the 
Ilible, the I almud, the Niddah, and other Jewish writings. 1 Since to 
the Jews was given the injunction to be fruitful and multiply, we may 
infer the necessity of midwives and pediatrists as well as hygienists. 
Sanitation and the prevention of disease was as much a part of their 
religion as obedience to the other laws; and from Genesis to Malachi 
there are many allusions to the medical care of women and children by 
women who had been taught by other women of their own country, as 
well as by those who had studied in the schools of Egypt. 

Examples of the medical women of the Bible and their skill are 
found in many of the old Books: Pre-natal life is described in Job X, 
10-12, and Psalms CXXXIX, 1 3 ~ 1 7 - The care of infants is discussed 
in Ezekiel X\ I, 4-5. Details as to the pregnancy of Rebekah and the 
birth of Esau and Jacob are told in Genesis XXV, 19-24. The account 
of Rachel’s death when Benjamin was born comes from Genesis XXXV, 
1 7. The names of certain midwives are recorded in Exodus I, 15-19, 
where we find that Shiphrah and Puah, being ordered by Pharaoh to kill 
the male babies at the moment of their birth, answered that the Hebrew 
women were so quick in labor that the midwife had no opportunity to 
do this for the child was born “ere the midwife come unto them.” 2 3 We 
find that either a nurse or the midwife cut the cord, washed the baby, 
rubbed it with salt, and then swaddled its body. These midwives were 
sufficiently quick-witted to frustrate not only the Pharaoh but even 
Yahweh, or Jehovah, for in Genesis XXXVIII, 27-30, there is told the 
story of the birth of twins, Perez and Zerah, the sons of Judah. When 
the midwife of Tamar found the first baby’s hand presenting she quickly 
tied a bit of red ribbon around its wrist and replaced the hand; then, 

1 Mneht, D. I., “Embryology and Obstetrics in Ancient Hebrew Literature,'’ 

Johns Hopkins TJosp. Bull., 1911, p. 113. 

3 Exodus I, 20: “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives and the people 
multiplied and waxed mightily.” 


after certain manipulations, the second baby was born first, but the red 
ribbon proved the priority of Perez. 

In the Talmud and Niddah there are discussions of obstetric oper- 
ations performed by women, among them embryotomy, Caesarian section* 
twin births, the care of the placenta, monstrosities, the death of the 
mother, menstruation, etc. In the Book of Exodus we turn to Chapter 
IV, 25, and find that Zipporah, a Midianite, the wife of Moses, cir- 
cumcised her own son with a flint knife, as she was accustomed to cir- 
cumcise the babies of others. Midwives also understood the use of the 
vaginal speculum in uterine diseases, how to perform occipital version — 
since this was the only proper way of entering the world — and they 
used probes, scalpels, cauteries, tenacula — in fact, as Sarton says, there is 
no reference in the Bible to surgery excepting these obstetrical operations,, 
and to the method of bandaging a broken arm (see Ezekiel XXX, 21). 
Abrahams, on the other hand, says that Jewish medicine was ahead of 
that of every other country through ancient times and the Middle Ages. 1 

It is not known where all the Hebrew doctors received their medical 
education, but, as we have seen, Moses studied at old Heliopolis, in 
Egypt; and, as it was a coeducational and priestly school, it is probable 
that Zipporah studied there as well as at Sals. Moses knew all the 
magic and superstitions of many countries including Babylon. He was 
a great sanitarian and understood the hygiene of camp life, kept stores 
of supplies for the people, erected shelters for the workers as well as 
hospitals for the sick and needy, which he called Beth Holem, Beth Said, 
etc. Neuburger says that both men and women were well trained in 
diagnosis, were taught when and how and where to bleed their patients, 
condemned the drinking of wine before the age of forty, and had a long 
and useful list of remedies for every disease. These may have been 
Egyptian or Babylonian medicines, for it is said that the Jews developed 
the prophylaxis of contagious diseases, chiefly of leprosy, from the Baby- 
lonians. Among their medicines they used mandrake for sterility (as is 
told in the story of Jacob and the mandrakes 2 ), and saffron, camphor, 
myrrh, cinnamon, senna, balm of Gilead, oil and wine for wounds, aco- 
nite and curare for poisons. Healing by hypnotic suggestion was shown 
in many of the acts of Moses, and of Samuel and Ezra and Solomon, 
and of Christ and the Apostles; but the Bible is by no means a medical 
textbook and we may only regret that among the writings of St. Luke 

1 Abrahams, I., “Jewish Life in the Middle Ages,” 1896, vol. I. 

2 Frazer, J. G., “Jacob and the Mandrakes,” Proc. Brit. Acad., vol. 3, 1917. 



there is so little professional lore, although, as Harnack 1 has pointed out, 
the vocabulary, with its medical terms, used in the Third Gospel and 
the Acts shows very clearly that St. Luke was, without doubt, a physician. 

1 he Hebrews must have been in constant communication with the 
Phoenicians and Egyptians, and well acquainted with traditions of 
Assyrian medical practice. They used ancient Babylonian texts, obeyed 
the Hammurabi code of fees and forfeits, and demanded a tooth for a 
tooth, an eye for an eye that was damaged by the operator. Various 
organs are mentioned in the Bible showing the anatomical knowledge of 
the Jews. Exodus XXIX, 13 records information concerning the liver; 
Psalms XVI, 9, on the heart as the “cooking pot’’; Daniel IV, 3, 13, as 
to the head where dreams are made; Daniel \ II, 1, on the interpretation 
of dreams; Deuteronomy XX\ III, 22, concerning tuberculosis or con- 
sumption with fever and wasting; Job XVI, 13, on the kidneys and gall 
bladder; Proverbs VII records a tirade against the sexual diseases carried 
by lewd women; and I Samuel, XX\ , 3 6-3 S , mentions apoplexy as the 
result of drunkenness. 

Although it has been said by eminent Jewish scholars that the first 
nation to subordinate women was that of the Hebrews, nevertheless, even 
though considered menials, Jewish women were not only educated as 
midwives but as priestesses and seers, barbers, surgeons, anatomists, and 

Although many women must have been honored like men because 
of their good works, as we read in that refreshing thirty-eighth chapter of 
Ecclcsiasticus, even the exceptional and learned wife or physician-mid- 
wife was quickly divorced or killed for infidelity, was usually regarded as 
a minor or a slave, and was always subject to her husband or father. It 
seems quite modern to find that the learned Vashti gave up a royal throne 
because of independence and innate modesty; that an uneducated woman 
like Esther ruled a stubborn king like Ahasuerus by her tact and beauty; 
and that the medical or political advice of Deborah 2 was considered as 

1 Harnack, A., “Luke the Physician,” Trans, by .T. If. Wilkinson, 190fi. 

Women, among the Hebrews, were doctors, midwives, nurses, and rulers. 
Deborah sings: 

“Without or guard or forts I was secure; 

I did not make my subjects’ necks endure 

The yoke of citadels; but having gain’d 

The affection of their hearts, 1 freely reign’d.” 

Pierre I.e Moyne, “Gallerie of Heroiek Women,” lfi.52, p. 6, says: “If we con- 
sider what was done under Deborah of Judea... we will confess that such 
miracles arc wrought under the government of women as have not been done 
under that of men.” 


valuable prophecy as that of the holy men. Evidently many women 
had the courage of their convictions and studied what they pleased, but 
were not considered so exceptional as to be mentioned by name as doctors. 
We do find, however, that St. John, in his letters, wrote to “the elect 
lady” as he did to men, and “angels,” and churches; and that St. Paul 
advised some of his own female relatives from Tarsus, to “relieve the 
afflicted through good works,” but “in quietness,” a most significant word 
to us. These women and a few others, whom the latter mentioned in 
his letters, are known to us by name, and we may venture a guess that 
Zenais, Philomela, Trvphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, Olympias or 
Olympas, and Phoebe, the deaconesses, all knew as much medicine as 
the men of the Christians, for they too were to be “helpers of many,” 
since there should be no male or female in the church. What St. Luke 
thought of medical women is not revealed in his Gospel, but doubtless 
he had charity to all and was ready to consult with them in time of need. 

It would be interesting to know what was done by medical women 
during the great epidemics of plague, when, for instance, the army of 
Sennacherib was destroyed in one night and even the trappings and 
saddles of the horses were eaten by rats, which evidently carried the 
bubonic plague wherever they rioted. It is said that there were 1500 
outbreaks of pestilences in various districts of Judea during the lifetime 
of Christ, and that during the reign of Titus 10,000 people died in 
Palestine from some epidemic or other. We also wonder what was done 
for Job, and whether he had boils, or syphilis, or smallpox, or eczema; 
why the Hebrews associated certain diseases with goats and mice ; and 
why, as in I Samuel, VI, 4, the people offered to the God of Israel five 
golden tumors and five golden mice “for one plague was on you all.” 
When the wife of Phineas died in convulsions in childbirth, was it due 
to fright because the Ark of God was stolen, or because of the plague 
from which her father-in-law and husband had died, or was it from 

Many other such questions may be asked even though no answer 
is forthcoming. Perhaps archeologists may sometime find bricks or 
tablets to amplify our history of the Hebrew women in medicine. It is 
clear, however, that while it was not considered by any means impossible 
for Jehovah to ease the pain of childbirth, there must have been much 
more reliance placed upon the midwife who was undoubtedly as well 
trained in woman’s diseases and general medicine and the treatment of 



cases of the plague 1 and in surgery as the men doctors of her time. 

And so, though not satisfied with our medical gleanings from 
Biblical fields, we must leave the Holy Land with its great history, its 
healing fountains, its prophets and seers, its midwives and deaconesses, 
and realize that, though few men or women physicians or midwives were 
honored by name, there were many of them in every community, for 
verily the Lord and His people had need of them. 


W HE THER or not we are bv this time convinced as to the priority 
of Assyrian or Egyptian medicine, we must now turn to a study of 
the Greeks in order to see why they rapidly surpassed the rest of the 
world in medical knowledge as a result of prior scientific investigations. 2 
It was the Greeks who furnished the elements of physiology, pathology, 
symptomatology and nomenclature, if not of anatomy and obstetrics. 

We have already found that the Egyptians, from their custom of 
mummifying the dead, studied anatomy much earlier than the Greeks, 
and they had a long list of household remedies for various diseases along 
with their religious hocus-pocus, and, moreover, they had no little sur- 
gical technique. The Hellenic mastery of ait, architecture and poetry 
was far greater than that of any other nation ; but for the actual teach- 
ing of anatomy and midwifery the Greeks, like the Hebrews, turned to 
the schools on the Nile. 

In writing of the evolution of medicine, Baas 3 says that both the 
oldest surgical technique and the beginnings of scientific therapeutics 
came from Greece, and were in the hands of women, as was the treat- 
ment of eye diseases and the care of women in labor. As time went on, 
women did the surgery, too; but, unfortunately, as general culture in- 
creased women became less and less willing to do medical work and 
these arts were ta 4 over by men, or, as Baas puts it, “leider”, the 
goddess-midwife died. 

In the matter of gods,' 1 however, the Greeks refused to believe in 
the animal-headed gods of their eastern neighbors and invented many 

1 Bombnugli, C. C ., “Plagues anrl Pestilences of the Old Testament,” Johns 

Hopkins llosp. null., X o. 32, 1893. vol. 1, pp. 63f. 

3 Singer, C'., “A Short History of Medicine,” 1928. 

3 Baas, J. H., “Grundriss rler Gescliirhte der Medicin,” 1876, p. 5. 

‘ Farnell, I.. R., “Outline History of Greek Religion,” 1921. 


anthropomorphic deities of their own, although the snake was even there 
regarded as the symbol of infinite medical wisdom. Goddesses of heal- 
ing were very numerous; and, while the feminine gods were generally 
gentle, sympathetic, and careful not to injure mortals, the most powerful 
gods were masculine and far more often angry, resentful, harmful, and 
cruel than their consorts. 

With a little license we may assume that the gods and goddesses 
had human prototypes to account for their very human attributes. De- 
meter, a sister of Zeus, was a medical caretaker of women and children. 
Her daughter Kore, or Persephone, learned to be equally skillful in re- 
lieving pain, curing sore eyes, and soothing the toothache of children. 
In the Thebes Museum there are numerous tablets extolling the medical 
work of Demeter and Persephone signed by grateful patients, 3000 years 
ago; and in the British Museum there is a beautiful statue of Demeter, 
by Praxiteles, or a member of his school, sitting with a far-away look 
in her eyes as she searches for her lost daughter, and accepting mean- 
while votive offerings of little marble pigs brought to her by other 
women who were fearful lest they, too, might lose their children. 

In honor of these two goddesses the people of Athens celebrated, in 
the spring, the appropriate rites, which included a procession to Eleusis, 
fifteen miles away, along the Via Sacra, a dusty road even now. Across 
the Bay of Eleusis they also came in throngs, men, women and children, 
singing as they rowed over the water on their annual journey to the 
temple to pray to Demeter for health and prosperity in the coming year. 
The precincts of Eleusis, on a hillside, with its white marble buildings 
shining in the sunlight must have been very beautiful and almost dazzling 
under the blue Attic sky. There were long, pillared halls for the 
transaction of business or for rest, theaters and gymnasia, temples and 
altars, all of which in the minds of the excited people must have pro- 
duced a great psychic effect. There, along with Demeter and Perse- 
phone, were to be found other medical deities, Diana or Artemis, and 
Eileithyia, forming the nucleus of a famous group^of divine specialists 
in diseases of women and children. Eileithyia was the chief midwife 
of the gods, and it was she, high up on Mt. Titthion above Epidaurus, 
who attended the maiden Koronis when the baby Aesculapius was born. 
Pindar (522-443 B. C.) calls her the “daughter of powerful Hera that 
dost cheer the laboring birth.” Eileithyia is pictured on the east pedi- 
ment of the Parthenon awaiting the birth of Athena as of a human baby, 
while the other gods rush to see the miraculous birth of Athena from the 



head of Zeus. If Eileithyia had been in a had mood she would probably 
have been clasping her own knees and paying no attention to her patient. 
1 hus she compelled Leto to bear her pains for nine days before the twins 
Apollo and Artemis were born, and because of jealousy she delayed the 
birth of Hercules and then cursed him with epilepsy or periodic insanity — 
so like mortals were the ancient gods. However, Eileithyia, in repent- 
ance, gave to Hercules the power of preventing disease and warding off 
the plague; and she taught him how to clean the Augean stables, the 
breeding place of flies, and to dry the malarial marshes where the 
miserable quartan fever originated. She dulled the pains of Semele when 
the infant Dionysus was born, that jolly god of mirth and drunkenness 
w ho was also a physician. In the British Museum we may see not 
only most of the beautiful frieze of the Parthenon, but also from an- 
other source a large marble panel on which in relief is Dionysus, the 
physician, visiting a patient; servants remove his cloak, musicians cele- 
brate his visit, the house is garlanded for the occasion, and the patient 
rises from his outdoor couch to salute the doctor, pointing to the altar 
on which an offering is burning. Thus we infer that even in mythology 
the physician in Greece was treated with great consideration while the 
patient was actually in pain, and it is evident that Eileithyia herself must 
have been more welcome than any god at the home of a woman in labor. 

Another medical goddess was named Genctyllis, to whom many an 
altar was erected in Greece. To her came women who wanted babies. 
She is represented as wearing a long chiton, girdled with a cord, and 
carrying a torch, the symbol of midwives for centuries. Many marble 
figures of her in relief or in the round, with instruments and servants, 
are seen in the museums of Greece; some of these figures were votive 
offerings from grateful patients who are seen kneeling before the goddess 
as if in labor, and presenting to her a wreath of olive leaves. The fees 
of these goddesses were large, collected before the patient was cured, 
and many of them were accompanied by a signed testimonial of the 
wonderful recovery. 

At Delphi, Rhea, the great mother of the gods, was worshipped 
along with Apollo. Rhea was the wife of Chronos, Old Father Time, 
has been identified with Ge, or Gaia, the earth goddess called Kybele 
or Cybele by the Phrygians, and was said to have come from Crete 
with healing medicines. Rhea’s medical partner was Artemis (or 
Diana), sister of the medical Apollo, who was also a goddess of child- 
birth. These medical goddesses again show the probable reality of 


women doctors even in the hazy prehistoric times. At Delphi, where 
a great festival was held every fourth year, on a high plateau of Mount 
Parnassus, Rhea and Artemis were worshipped along with Apollo, as 
were Demeter and her children at Eleusis. There is no lovelier spot on 
earth than this hillside 1700 feet above the blue waters of the Bay of 
Corinth, amid hoary olive trees and dashing waterfalls, where marble 
temples and beautiful statues testified to the importance of the Delphic 
oracles and its gods, and where on her tripod beside the temple of Apollo 
over a chasm, sat the ignorant old woman, the Pythia, from whose froth- 
ing mouth came unintelligible mumblings to be interpreted for good or 
ill by the priests. These oracles, after the seventh century before Christ, 
were written in poetic fashion and codified for future use. They were 
learned by heart and repeated over and over again by the credulous 
Greeks who had come from all over the country for a consultation. It 
was indeed no trifling matter to receive such an oracle from a seer who 
represented the victory of Apollo over the serpent. Great sacrifices of 
bulls or rams or cocks had to be made at the altars before one could be 
admitted to the oracle; there were the sacred snakes to feed, and the 
priests to pay. It was also no small affair to travel to Delphi, tw T o 
hundred miles by land from Athens and nearly as far from Corinth, 
or even to climb the mountainous road from the sea after a perilous 
voyage from the islands of the archipelago. But everybody thought the 
effort worth while, for even such men as Alexander the Great and 
Sophocles believed in the oracles and the value of any medical advice 
that might be obtained through the Pythia. It was Sophocles who said, 
“Though the gifts of the gods fade the gods never die,” and that explains 
the long procession of singing people as they wound around the foothills 
and slowly climbed up the side of the famous mountain to Delphi, many 
of the singers having worked themselves into hypnotic states before ar- 
riving at the temple area. Finally, however, came the visit to the Pythia, 
the oracle, the interpretation, and the vision of an angry or pleasant god. 
If angry, no prayers availed to open his closed left hand, a sign of death 
to the patient. 

But faith and works often went together at these great temple re- 
sorts, where, if the oracle was sufficiently mysterious, there was oppor- 
tunity for the medical priests or priestesses to interpret it as advising 
herb remedies, baths, gymnastics, and practice for games. Water from 
the sacred springs was curative if judiciously applied; and there was 
sometimes a resort to surgery, especially to bleeding, or to vomits and 

3 2 


purges. The patients were generally grateful and presented to Rhea 
or Diana little clay or wax or stone models of the diseased organ for 
which they had sought healing. There arc in the museums in Greece, 
and in other parts of the world, thousands of miniature legs, breasts, 
livers, doll-babies, locks of hair, finger-rings, combs, brooches, little jars 

of face-paint or of ointment, mirrors, and other trinkets, presumably 
presents to the goddess. 

Besides these medical deities at Eleusis and Delphi there were 
many others as useful in sickness. Hecate, the moon goddess, was con- 
sidered a specialist in children’s diseases. She helped them through teeth- 
ing and fevers by using aconite teas. Zeus himself called her the nurse- 
mother. At Rhodes the two daughters of Helios, the sun god, were 
worshipped as midwives and healers. In Athens and Corinth, Isis and 
Aphrodite, foreign goddesses, were considered as great as Minerva Medi- 
ca herself, and the muses, nymphs, dryads, and nereids were all called 
iatroi ’ or Physicians. At Oropus every god of healing was invoked since 
it was thought that all of them were originally super-intelligent mortals, 
made immortal because of their medical knowledge, for 

Men and gods above one race compose; 

Tiotli from the parent earth 

Derive their old mysterious birth. 

Patients who went to Oropus paid heavy fees and were then wrapped 
in the skin of a freshly killed black ram, and put to sleep to incubate 
their cures by dreams. There Athena, the four daughters of Aesculapi- 
us, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Leto were all worshipped. Aphrodite, in 
the form of a dove, was a specialist in skin diseases and children’s fevers; 
Artemis and Athena cured blindness by the use of herbs; Leto, the 
surgeon, is said to have cured the wounds of Aeneas and others, and 
also officiated at difficult births. To her were offered models of limbs 
in gold and silver and ivory. 

Pallas Athena, or Minerva, took, as her sovereign remedy, the peony 
the symbol of medical men and women. Ocyroe, Cheiron’s daughter, 
also used peonies to cure her patients, while Medea and Circe specialized 
in the antidotes to poisons, and were often mentioned in the early 
centuries of history. At Argos, in the Peloponnesus, Hera was the 
chief healing divinity, and the ruins of her temple still stand on the 
hilltop above the turquoise Bay of Nauplia, where the famous traveler 

Pausanias (117-180 A. D.) saw the temple during the reign of Antoni- 
nus Pius. 




I T was above Epidaurus, on Mt. Titthion, as we have seen, that 
Aesculapius was born, the son of the god Apollo and a maiden named 
Coronis. According to one legend, the young mother left her baby 
in the care of a shepherd and went off with a mortal man, at which 
Apollo was angry and gave the little boy to the centaur Cheiron to 
bring up and educate as a physician. Soon the child became so 

expert in healing human ills that he even brought the dead to 
life. This so maddened Zeus and Pluto that they conspired to kill 
Aesculapius. Again Apollo saved him, and when he was of age he 
married Epione, by whom he had several children, all doctors. Homer 
merely mentions the sons of Aesculapius as healing the battle wounds at 
Troy, but his daughters’ names, Hygeia and Panacea, have become house- 
hold words for the prevention of sickness. Pindar, 520-440 B. C., says 
of one of the sons, 

“Each of his several bane he cured; 

This felt the charm’s enchanting sound; 

That drank th’ elixir's soothing cup; 

Some with soft hands in sheltering bands he bound 
Or plied the searching steel and bade the lame leap up.” 

In the course of time many temples were erected to Aesculapius and 
his daughters all over Greece, but at Epidaurus was the largest of all the 
sanitariums and the most important for many generations. From being 
a mere Thessalian prince, Aesculapius became the great medical god, and 
his wife and daughter were made goddesses, or, as we say today, they 
were sainted mortals. There were more than three hundred such 
temples and health resorts or sanitariums 1 in Greece alone, where treat- 
ment and advice were given by the deities during sleep in the long 
dormitories. The priestesses of these temples were always represented 
carrying a basket of mysterious remedies for the patients, in case some- 
thing tangible was ordered by the god or goddesses. 

The ruins of the temples, dormitories, public halls, gymnasia, guest 
houses, and administration buildings, as seen at Epidaurus today, are most 
interesting. Above the plain rises Mt. Titthion, crowned with the 
remains of Apollo’s temple among the brambles and berry bushes. Off 
in the distance is the sea, and all around are well-wooded hills. A little 
stream runs through the locality, neatly bridged, with a long race track 
just beyond. On the side of the hill above the temples is the most 

1 Walton, Alice, “The Cult of Asklepios,” Cornell Univ. Diss., 1894. 



perfect Greek theatre in the world, never changed by the Romans even 
after they became rulers in the Peloponnesus. In the museum are 
exquisite remains of broken pillars and capitals, statues of the gods, and 
a large collection of surgical instruments, as well as tablets on which 
arc recorded the wonderful cures by surgery or other treatment, for 
which the patients gave thanks to their restorers. Walton, Farnell, 
Richard Caton and many other students of Greek history have given us 
descriptions of the life at Epidaurus during one of the quadrennial pil- 
grimages to the shrines of Aesculapius and the goddesses. We see the 
patients and their friends arrive at the sacred precinct; those in danger 
of dying are sent to an adjoining village along with midwifery cases. 

A Greek Woman Surgeon "lets rlood." (500 B. C .) 

The patients who are considered appropriate for treatment are then taken 
to the bath pools for ablutions, after which they feed the sacred snakes, 
give cakes to the dogs, pay their bills to the priests, and then are assigned 
beds or marble slabs on which to sleep and dream, or watch with one 
eye open for the coming of the god. 

What we know of the treatment in these great Aesculapian insti- 
tutions amounts to little more than tradition, but the priests and priest- 
esses seem to have been skilful bleeders, quick operators, and excellent 
hypnotists. Pausanias records the story of one of the women doctors 
at Epidaurus named Amyte or Anicia, about 300 B. C., who was also a 
poet and a writer. She wrote the oracles of the god in verse and was a 
great favorite with the patients. From the votive tablets to Aesculapius 
and Epione and their daughters we can judge what sort of surgical treat- 
ment they gave their “cases,” and though the reports of the cures are 



ridiculous they are not much worse than certain testimonials of patients 
at the pilgrimage health resorts of Lourdes and the shrines of the 
medieval saints. 

Of the testimonials at Epidaurus we have space for only a few 
samples. A child of three prayed the god for a baby. She slept in the 
abaton, or dormitory, where the god came; but, while promising her what 
she asked, he insisted that she had not asked enough. However, the child 
went home and carried a baby within her body for three years, after 
which time she returned to Epidaurus to pray for its birth. At this 
Aesculapius laughed and reminded the child of what he had told her 
at first. Soon the baby was born quite painlessly, and the little mother 
carried it home. Babies were not ordinarily born in the sacred 
precincts, for everything painful was kept at a distance in a sort of 
community village, where provision was made for all such emergencies. 
Hucksters, traders, banal entertainments and funerals, everyday business 
affairs and markets were sternly kept as far as possible from the religious 
affairs of the sanitarium. Still, even there, a rich patient had more likeli- 
hood than a poor one of receiving careful treatment. A typical cure is 
the following: A man had dropsy and was swollen beyond all human aid. 
He went to Epidaurus, bathed, paid his fees, and slept in the abaton. 
The god came to him in the night, cut off his head, hung him up by 
his feet to drain, and when he awoke he was again himself, head in place, 
and dropsy gone. 1 

It is no wonder that Aristophanes, 450-380 B. C., scorned such 
testimonials and held them up to ridicule. A popular method of ex- 
posing these cures was by the mimes or dramas of Herondas, a century 
later than Aristophanes. These mimes were clever conversations, partly 
in pantomime, supposedly held between the patients or their friends who 
purported to have been cured ; gossipy dialogues they were with a strong 
sense of humor, mimicking the sound of the god as he called his dog or 
clucked for the snakes. Still, in spite of pretended skepticism in sophisti- 
cated circles of society, the Greeks had a firm belief in dreams and mira- 
cles. Socrates, 469-399 B. C., who lived during the so-called “golden 
period,” said that the visions of good men were pure and prophetic, and 
that when a patient had nothing harmful in his stomach and was quite 
peaceful he might lay hold on truth during slumber; but Euripides, 480- 
406 B. C., believed that “dreams that flit on sable wings” come from the 

1 Dannemann, Friederieh, “Naturwissensehaft und Heilkunde,” Essays in the 
History of Medicine, presented to Sudlioff on his seventieth birthday, 1924. 



lower or earth world and are in no sense divine. He conceded that they 
might, however, be worth interpretation by a priest, because the whole 
air might possibly be full of immortal spirits to whom all truth was 

It is said that Aristides the Just, who died 468 B. C., was once cured 
in a dream after he had suffered thirteen years without relief. Apelles, 
the painter, of the time of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great, 
was cured of long-standing dyspepsia at Epidaurus, but not in a dream, 
for though he promised a large fee and good testimonial, the gods re- 
fused to heal him unless he ate such unpalatable food (cheese, citron, and 
lettuce) as was prescribed, walked around the grounds with bare feet, 
bathed in cold salt water and wine which he detested, endured hard 
beatings, sweatings, and vigorous frictions with salt and mustard, drank 
a mixture of anise seed and olive oil for his headaches, and gargled his 
throat frequently. We see a certain amount of hocus-pocus in this active 
treatment; but, as a rule, before, and even long after, Hippocrates (460- 
377 B. C.) there was almost no science in medicine; although there was 
a wide belief in hygiene and the healing powers of nature as well as in 
the efficacy of the gods and goddesses of medicine whose statues are 
found in large numbers throughout Greece. Of these hundreds were 
statues of Hygeia, generally representing her as a beautiful maiden, with 
a serpent by her side, and a saucer of food in her hand from which she 
feeds the hungry creature. 

From the seventh century B. C. through the period of Roman do- 
minion in Greece, Hygeia, unlike other goddesses, is rarely seen alone. 
Usually she is introducing patients to Aesculapius or giving them some 
sort of treatment by his advice. She bears her own medical staff, the 
caduccus, or she carries a basket of herbs for the patients. She is always 
represented as beautiful and modest. On a gravestone in the Berlin 
museum we find her seated, crowned with a diadem, and in her lap 
three little "Wickelk i n d cr’’ children in swaddling-clothes, whom she is 
tending. On a votive tablet from Smyrna is a torso of a woman who 
bares to the goddess her large cancerous breast. These are merely 
samples of the representations of Hygeia. 

Such statues come from the best period of Greek art; but there are 
also interesting pottery bowls, and vases on which we find scenes of 
medical interest, such as one showing a woman holding the head of her 
patient while he vomits, evidently the result of an emetic so popular as a 



remedy for an overloaded stomach ; 1 2 3 4 and there are interesting grave- 
stones of doctors and their patients which tell a simple story with great 

. O 


We have omitted the story of the women of Homer’s time because 
they seem to belong to every age. Chiefly interesting to us in the 
H omeric narrative is the tradition that Helen had been to Egypt to 
study medicine with Polydamna, the wife of a Greek named Thonis, and 
that Polydamna gave to Helen the famous nepenthe with which to 
poison her enemies or cure friends. We read in the fourth book of the 
Odyssey 3 how Helen “cast a drug into the wine whereof they drank, a 
drug to lull all pain and anger, and bring forgetfulness of every sorrow.’’ 4 
Both Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus mention this as historically true, 
and they reiterate that the nepenthe would calm a pain, soothe anger, 
and bring forgetfulness of sorrow. It was evidently an opiate mixed 
with some other herbs. Sarton says that the heroic men and women 
of Homer’s tales knew as much about medicine as was possible in those 
days. They used hellebore, iron-rust, various pain-killers, burned 
sulphur, inhaled mandrake and poppy juice from a steaming sponge to 
produce anesthesia, and were skilful in removing spear heads and arrows, 
and in treating wounds. 5 Homer said of Helen that the “physician 
outweighs many others in value,” and again, of Agamede, that she 
“understood as many drugs as the wide earth nourishes,” ( Iliad XI, 
739-745) for she was the daughter of Augeas of Elis. 

“Agamede, with the golden hair, 

A leech was she, and well she knew 
All herbs on ground that grew.” 

1 Hollander, Eugen, “Plastik und Medizin,” 1912, pp. 74, 75, 87, 144, 145, 162, 
194, 260. 

2 In the British Museum is a grave slab showing an elderly woman holding 
a pomegranate and a torch. Beside her stands a little girl holding her basket 
of remedies as Aesculapius was often shown with a little boy. There are many 
gravestones of women doctors, as we shall see later. The pomegranate was a 
sign of fertility, the torch the sign of a midwife. 

3 Prose translation by Butcher and Lang, 1907, p. 39. 

4 Polydamna is mentioned in the Odyssey (IV, 226 ft') ; she is supposed to 
have lived at Thebes, in Egypt, during the reign of the Pharaoh Sesostris, 
whose temple and obelisk were at Heliopolis, the medical center of the country, 
during the XII Dynasty (2000-1780 B. C.) Theophrastus in his history of 
plants, does not exactly tell us what “nepenthe” was, but some critics believe 
that is was inula helenium in wine, though Plutarch tells us that it was mixed 
with verbena, the remedy of Isis, and adiantum, in wine; Dioseorides and 
Galen said it was made from an Egyptian root called oinopia, while others 
think it was the datura strammonium, and, recently, still others that it was a 
preparation of poppies, or of our oenothera or evening primrose. 

5 Neuburger, Max, “History of Medicine,” vol. I., pp. 90-91. 



In the tenth book of the Odyssey we find a nymph named Circe 
who changed Odysseus’ followers into swine, and held him in her power 
for a } ear by her potions. And again in the Hind (XIV ) Hccamede 
is said to have revived Patroclus with tonic drinks and Pramian wine 
which contained goat’s milk cheese, onions, barley meal, honey, and 
wine. Such a drink was made by Metaneira for Demeter, with 
which to break her long fast. In the Aeneid (I, 83), Vergil tells us 
that Medea, the wife of Jason who won the golden fleece, knew magic 
and could cure insanity. Pindar also vouches for this as a fact. Ovid 
says that Oenone, having been taught medicine by the divine Apollo, 
uftir 1 etusing to heal Paris because she was jealous of Helen, committed 
suicide from remorse. 

Thus we see that to Homer and other classical writers there was 
nothing unusual in the practice of medicine by women; nor did they 
necessarily use magic. Homer wrote that pestilences were sent by the 
invisible arrows of Apollo, thus begging the question as to their origin, 
but nevertheless he would not have cared to risk omitting to sacrifice a 
cock or a ram or a pig to the gods in time of sickness, even as Socrates 
on his last da}. Homer mentioned men surgeons and their operations 
as well as physicians of both sexes. There was Podalirius, son of 
Aesculapius, who tended diseases invisible to the eye, and Vlachaon, the 
army surgeon over thirty smoothly hollow ships,” who cut out the 
arrows and sucked the poison from the wounds of Menelaus and applied 
balsams to soothe his pain. Podalirius had been a pupil of Cheiron 
and Centaur, who taught medicine to Aesculapius, or Asclepios, his 
father. Of Machaon, Homer says: 

“He found a balm for every grief. 

On some the force of charmed strains lie tried, 

To some the medicated draught applied; 

Some limbs be placed the amulet around, 

Some from the trunk lie cut and made the patient sound. ” 

Dr. Go\ anes, 1 director of the Spanish Institute of Cancer, say's 
that Homer mentions more than one hundred and thirty different wounds 
and injuries. In most cases these wounds were washed by w'omen with 
warm water and covered with a sedative dressing. Sometimes it would 
seem that Homer describes cases which he himself had seen, like that of 
the soldier w'hose heart had been pierced by an arrow and who lived 
until the weapon was pulled out of the wound, w'hen he immediately 
died. He mentioned another patient who must have had an injury to the 

1 Sec review of his “Surgery in Preliomeric Greece,” in A. .V. A. Journal, 
April 12, 1924. 



brain stem when he fell to the ground “face first.” Homer, moreover, 
adds that as a physician is worth ten men, a surgeon is worth ten soldiers. 
To the physician, however, the remedies of Egypt, “where prolific Nile 
with various simples clothes the fattened soil,” were a necessity. And 
of the first physicians, Homer says that 

From Paeon sprung their patron god imparts — 

To all the Pharian race his healing arts. 

Thus we see the value of medicine in Homer’s time quite apart from 
temple cures and faith healing. 


W HEN the Pythagoreans were teaching in Magna Graecia, in the 
sixth century before Christ, the wife and daughters of the master 
were helping him in his medical work, unmedical as it seems to us. Even 
though the Pythagoreans were more interested in religious and philo- 
sophical theories than in healing the sick, they wrote what may have been 
the first treatise on child welfare ; and the women of the family of 
Pythagoras won the prize in a debate with Euryphon, a well-known con- 
temporary physician, on the viability of the seven-months foetus, the 
women arguing that it was viable even before the seventh month. Osier, 
in his Bibliotheca Prima, quoting from Theodor Gomperz, says that no 
line of Pythagoras has come down to us. His “golden sentences” were 
probably a fabrication of the fourth century A. D . ; but even so, no one 
doubts that there were great thinkers in his sect, both men and women, 
nor should one doubt that Aristotle’s rule for writing deterred many 
learned women from preparing books, since he taught that a “writer 
should say everything he ought, nothing but what he ought, and say it 
as he ought,” and women must have taken this to heart. 

We are told that Aristotle, 384-322 B. C., and his wife Pythias 
spent their long honeymoon on Mytilene, Sappho’s island, studying 
botany and biology and physiology. Later they wrote an encyclopedia 
together from material they had gathered there. Like many of our 
modern college women of the twentieth century, Pythias made a specialty 
of histology and embryology, and assiduously collected and examined 
specimens of all sorts of living things, although having no microscope. 
Aristotle was employing agents to gather specimens to be delivered to 
him in good condition for dissection. He and Pythias were especially 
interested in the study of generation, and consequently they collected 



eggs of every possible vertebrate, as well as those of spiders and other 
insects. They wrote books on generation and histology, listing their 
observations carefully and deducting from them as logically as possible 
a theory of the fertilization and development of embryos. They even 
acquired a human embryo which was at “the age of forty days as large 
as an ant, and they studied the entire development of a chick. It 
matters little that Pythias did not sign her part of the researches, since 
we have Aristotle’s word for it that she was his assistant; but for the 
sake of the archives of famous women her name should not be lost or 
her experiments go unrecorded. The history of animals, their heredity 
and development, their habitats and food were new to the scientists of 
that time; and a wide range of subjects was studied by the members of 
the Aristotelian school of philosophy, with a depth of logic that partly 
made up for the lack of instruments of precision. 

Among the great women of Greece, as in Egypt, long before the 
Christian era, there were learned queens, of whom Artemisia of Caria 
was the most famous. Her husband Mausolus ruled wisely and well, 
and died 355 B. C. ; but he is remembered chiefly because of the tomb 
which she erected to his memory, portions of which are now in the 
British Museum. On its summit is a great chariot in which stand 
Mausolus and Artemisia; and, though her face is partly obliterated, it is 
easy to see that she was a woman of character and intelligence. Even 
today we speak of her when we mention the flowers which she named 
for herself and her friends, for she was a medical student and a botanist. 
It was said that she knew every herb used in medicine. Her skill was 
praised by Strabo, Pliny, Suidas, and Theophrastus, and not doubted by 
I iraquellus. According to Soranus of Ephesus, artemisia, the herb, was 
used in the bath to prevent an abortion, or as a fumigation in retarded 
menses or retained placenta. Another species of artemisia together with 
claterium was used to cause abortions, and plantains and willows were 
used for metrorrhagia. Pliny says that it was she who discovered the 
value of wormwood as a drink, the absinth once so loved by Parisians; 
and she named the cyclamen, gentian, and lysimachia, for the kings of 
Arcadia, Thrace, and Ilium. 

In I hessaly there were not only capable and trained medical women 
but magicians and evil women, who knew how to harm mortals as well 
as to help them. As surgeons they also could remove spear points and 
arrow heads, and cleanse a wound with soothing roots. 1 

1 Iliad, IV, 219; XI, 512, £50, &I5; XVI, 29. 



Whether the medical women of the great days of Greece were 
themselves writers or not, we know some of them by name and others 
by reputation; and though Pliny much later (23-79 A. D.) wrote of the 
“nobility of the profession of the obstetrix," it was still thought in his 
day that women doctors should be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible 
in their business so that “after they were dead no one would know that 
they had lived.” But when a man like Seneca, about 4 B. C.-65 A. D., 
could praise the “skilful fingers of his woman doctor,” and St. Paul could 
say quite casually that when there was any doubt of pregnancy five 
“ obstetrices, id est medicae,” should be called in consultation, one can not 
doubt that there had never been a time when Greek women were not 
doing good medical work. 

We do not know the dates of the women doctors and writers men- 
tioned by Pliny any more than we know the year of death of those 
whose tombs have been found. But he must have had authority for his 
statements concerning Lais and Sotira, and the Theban Olympias who 
wrote a book on abortions and sterility, and Salpe who wrote on eye 
diseases, and Elephantis, and Philista, the sister of Pyrrhus (318-272 
B. C.) who was an obstetrix , and Victoria, “the Gynecia.” Philista was 
sometimes called Elephantis, according to Soranus, who collected materi- 
als for an extensive biographical encyclopedia. They say that she 
wrote medical books, and was a professor or teacher or magister of medi- 
cine, and that she was so beautiful that she was obliged to lecture behind 
a curtain in order not to distract the attention of the students. The Lais 
above mentioned was a contemporary of Philista. Her specialty was to 
treat malaria with menstrual blood, and she or another contemporary is 
said to have reported a cure for epilepsy by an attack of malaria. How 
this was brought about is not stated, but it is quoted by Athenaeus. Lais 
also wrote on abortions, and some one has suggested that she was the 
woman mentioned as a friend of Aristippus, Diogenes, and Demosthenes, 
but the name was rather common. Salpe was said to use testicular pre- 
parations and bone marrow and other animal remedies in her work. 
These sound like strangely modern treatment. 

In writing about medical women we should inquire where they 
studied and with whom. In the fifth century before Christ the great- 
est medical teacher was he who has always been known as the 
Father of Medicine, and although many of the works attributed to 
Hippocrates were probably not written by him, nevertheless to him we 
owe the start and the impulse of all scientific studies in the art of heal- 



ing. Hippocrates was born in 460 B. C., on the island of Cos, off the 
coast of Caria, in Asia Minor. He was a great traveler and he founded 
schools of medicine in Cos and Larissa (in Thrace), where he died in 
377 B. C. He may have met Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Pericles, 
and Aspasia, and all the other brilliant people of his time; and lie must 
have heard at first hand of the battle of Marathon, 490 B. C., and of 
Salamis, 480 B. C., and of Xerxes’ bridge over the Hellespont; and, 
if he did go to India or China to study, he was probably touched by 
the generosity and altruism of the Buddhists, and impressed with the 
teachings of Confucius. 

Scholars differ 1 as to the writings and work of Hippocrates in 
gynecology and obstetrics, but he is frequently credited with establishing 
schools in these studies where women were received freely as pupils. The 
famous Aphorisms, however, give us a good idea of his teaching on these 
subjects. Among them we find allusions to the anatomy of the uterus, 
“the temporary home of the child,” to the opening of the uterus to 
cure sterility, to the menstrual fluid as equivalent to the seminal 
fluid, and to the function of the uterus as causing grief and hysteria 
and depending on the moon and stars. He insisted upon the general 
use of the stool or obstetric chair in labor, and advised hot sitz baths 
and fomentations to hasten the first stage. He strongly urged the 
obstetrix to attend to the cleanliness of her finger nails, and to meddle 
with the patient as little as possible during her confinement. He did, 
however, advise the iatrornaia or obstetrix to try delivering the patient 
on her knees or standing, if the last stage was unduly prolonged. 
Whether the patient had puerperal fever from bits of retained placenta, 
or not, he ordered the nurse to keep her in bed for forty days, only al- 
lowing her to perform on the fifth day the ceremony of dancing with 
her baby five times around a fire and then presenting it to the nurse in 
a grain basket for its training and food. The nurse, not the doctor, 
cut or tore the umbilical cord after the delivery of the placenta, but if 
the placenta did not come away whole the uterus had to be irrigated or 
cauterized. The baby was first rubbed with salt by the nurse, then 
washed and oiled and swaddled. Even before the birth of the child the 
nurse had been busy rubbing the patient’s abdomen, or even raising her 
from the bed and suddenly dropping her to hasten the pains. Sometimes 
nurses sang to their patients to keep up their spirits when things were 

1 Adams, Francis, “The Genuine Works of Hippocrates,” edited and translated 



tedious. It was the obstetrix, however, who understood operative obstet- 
rics, such as version, and performed it when necessary. Witkowski 1 says 
that many of the seven-month infants lived and were carefully fed by 
wet-nurses. Abortion was common and was not considered either danger- 
ous or criminal, nor was the death of the mother thought to be so serious 
as the death of the baby; but in case of the death of both, the baby was 
buried separately in its own grave. The midwife or obstetrix was gener- 
ally a woman who had had children, intelligent, clean, healthy, strong, 
quiet, prudent, not avaricious, and very well trained in her art. As a 
matter of course she knew certain magic words and when to use them. 
She cared for the patient for fifteen days after the birth of the baby, 
which she turned over to a wet-nurse of her own selection, and received 
her fee on a piece of dry bread. 

According to post-Hippocratic teachings, perhaps emanating from 
Diodes of Carystos or from Herophilus, the uterus was the seat of many 
diseases, nervous, cancerous, or systemic. Hysteria or suffocation of the 
womb was common, especially in an unmarried woman whose womb was 
supposed to be lighter than that of a multipara. Such a womb in a fit 
of hysterics was drawn up to the liver by some attraction where it 
pumped itself full of blood and descended again to its own place . 2 In 
order to draw the uterus back more quickly than by nature alone the 
patient was given vile odors to smell while fumigations of sweet odors 
were made at the vulva, so closely related were nose and uterus. In the 
meantime the patient must live on cabbage and drink cabbage water. If 
the uterus were “adherent to the heart” she would require poppy juice, 
leeks, vinegar, juniper, and sage as medicines; or the physician might in- 
sert a pessary (tampon) of goose grease and pitch into the vagina. One 
of the symptoms of such a condition was vomiting and loss of speech. 
Thus we see how doctors and medical teachers were groping for 
the science of obstetrics without making sufficient investigations of their 
own. There was much philosophizing and speculation and generali- 
zations, and few but Hippocrates were collecting facts and noting 
symptoms by which to study disease. Most of the so-called healers went 
to the temples for their facts, and we have seen how worthless their 
notes must have been. It is not known whether or not Hippocrates ever 
went to Epidaurus, but there is no evidence that he was impressed with 

1 Witkowski, G. J„ “Histoire des Accouchements chez tows les Peuples,” 1887. 

2 See article by Hunter Robb, “Hippocrates on Hysteria,” Johns Hopkins 
Hospital Bulletin No. 23, 181)2, p. 78. 



the treatment at any sanitaria except those of his own founding. 
Diogenes (412-323 B. C.) in his tub was leading the simple life at Cor- 
inth, and evolving his theories of the circulation of the blood from mere 
speculation. Democritus (460-370 B. C.) was trying to count the pulse 
with a water clock and theorizing as to what its source was, and then 
talking about it in the market place; but Hippocrates was not only 
philosophizing but trying experiments and keeping careful records of 
them. He believed in nature as a cure for most ills, a change of scene 
for the neurasthenic, sunlight and fresh air for the consumptive, purga- 
tives and sweats for the plethoric, music and the theatre for the weary 
business man ; and, moreover, he watched the facial expression of his 
patients, attended to their diet, tried to regulate their four humors 
(blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm) and adjust them correctly 
if possible. 

The writings of Hippocrates were copied and recopied for centuries, 
used by Galen, and, more or less garbled, studied almost up to the 
eighteenth century, when critics began to use them chiefly for historical 
material. Clinical records of forty-two cases have come down to us 
from Hippocrates, so clearly treated that Osier and Sydenham took them 
as model records. Among these cases were quinsy, diphtheria, typhoid 
fever, pleurisy, dislocations of bones, injury to the skull, etc. It is diffi- 
cult to believe that Hippocrates and his pupils were satisfied to know 
merely the anatomy of the pig or ape, but possibly such was the case; 
their knowledge of pharmacy and chemistry was nil. If we may 
judge their ideas of anatomy, therapeutics, and physiology from the 
pictures in manuscripts of uncertain date, and from the models of human 
organs used as votive offerings, we shall have to confess that their 
diagnosis and treatment were pure guesswork. Herodotus mentioned 
a skeleton at a feast, but we wonder what lie was visualizing to himself; 
and Aristotle wrote that food was cooked in the stomach, that the blood 
took the cooked food to the heart to be made into more blood, and that 
the body had only eight ribs, so that even Aristotle, with his powers of 
observation, progressed very little beyond the mass of his contemporaries. 1 

We have already cited Herophilus, sometimes, like Diodes, called 

1 Singer tells 11 s that \ristotle believer! that invertebrates were created 
spontaneously while vertebrates began as embryos though not as ova (Charles 
Singer, “History anti Methods of Science: Greek Biology and Modern Biology,” 
vol. II). Perhaps we misjudge Aristotle, for we take his theories only at third 
or fourth hand (Frank R. Smith, Johns Hopkins Hospital Bull., Sept. 1893, 
p. 85). 



the second Hippocrates; for in anatomy and obstetrics he added to the 
work of his forerunners, especially that of his teacher, Hippocrates. 

There is a well known but perhaps apocryphal story of a famous 
woman doctor named Agnodice, a pupil of this Herophilus. She was 
evidently a great favorite among her women patients at a period when 
women doctors were sometimes accused of the ancient crime of perform- 
ing abortions. To avoid notice, or for sake of comfort, Agnodice wore 
her clothing man-fashion, and when this was discovered by her rivals 
she was ordered to the tribunal to stand trial for practicing under false 
pretences. This made such a commotion among the women of Athens 
that they too rushed to the tribunal and demanded that the judges 
release her, for, said they, “You are not our husbands but our enemies 
if you condemn our Agnodice, who saves our lives.” The judges 
thought it wise to release her and permit her to wear her chiton and 
dress her hair as she chose. 

If we search for the works of Herophilus, Agnodice’s master, who* 
lived in the last third of the fourth century B. C., we shall find that it 
was he who founded the science of anatomy at the medical school of Alex- 
andria, 1 dissected many hundreds of human bodies in his zeal for correct- 
ing certain ancient statements, named several organs of the body, and 
wrote a book on obstetrics for his pupils. This book was for many 
centuries attributed to the great Hippocrates. From him Agnodice must 
have learned how to perform embryotomy, using a boring and cutting 
instrument before crushing the child’s head. She also performed Caesari- 
an section on a dead mother and did other operations as taught by her 
master. The story of Agnodice was told by Hvginus, the librarian of 
the Emperor Augustus, who may have read it in an old book dealing 
with the history of medicine. Since that time many writers in addition 
to Pliny have quoted the tale in good faith. 2 * * 5 Tiraquellus, a noted lawyer 
of the sixteenth century, takes up the cudgels for Agnodice, and quotes 
not only Pliny, but Martial (43-104 A. D.) and Celsus of the second 
century A. D., and Diodorus Siculus (90-30 B. C.), and Quintilian, the 
Spaniard (35-95 A. D.), and Apollonius of Rhodes (born 235 B. C.) 

1 Herophilus, 355-280 15. C., named the calamus scriptorius and torcular 

Herophili, and placed the seat of the soul in the brain. Baas, op. cit., p. 90, 

speaks of Ag-nodike, a pupil of Herophilus of Chalkedon, as “die in Athen die 

Geburtshiilfe ubte.” Garrison, Fielding- H., “Introduction to the History of 
Medicine,” 1914, p. 71. 

5 See Haeser, Heinrich, “Grundriss der Geschichte der Medicin,” 1884; Tira- 
quellus, Andreas, “De Legibus Connubialis et Jure Martiali,” pp. 100, 101; 
“De Nobilitate,” Chap. XXXI, Foeminae Medicae, 1566. 



and Apuleius (born 125 A. D. — who wrote The Golden Ass), in order 
to prove that in each century and from necessity there were capable 
women doctors in practice who “should be saluted, for medicine is the 
safeguard of mankind.” Tiraquellus adds that, obviously, even if we 
knew not the name of one obstetrix, if men were not allowed in the 
lying-in room, there must have been women trained to manage labor. 
He says that from the time of Agnodice, Attic women were given the 
right of citizenship; and Demosthenes praised their skill, at the same 
time telling how gentle and useful his own wife was in caring for him 
when he was sick. 

I here must have been many medical schools in ancient Greece and 
Alexandria. Agnodice’s teacher, Herophilus, taught large classes of 
men and women students in Alexandria, while the schools of Hippo- 
crates were still flourishing in Cos and Larissa, and the rival school of 
Cnidos, in Asia Minor, was working on quite an independent basis. To 
the Cnidians symptoms were classified as plants were classified, treatment 
was very energetic, and Isis and the other gods of healing were relied 
upon to cure where human means failed. The Cnidians had a large 
following of women students. Pindar, 522-443 B. C., a hundred years 
earlier, had said that the medical schools of Rhodes and Cyrene were the 
most popular in his day; and Herodotus mentioned the Asclepieia, or 
health resorts, where patients went in throngs to have their diseases diag- 
nosed by laymen and treatment given according to the interpretation of 
dreams, as at the religious resort of Epidaurus. 1 The remedies used at 
the different schools were collected after a fashion bv Theophrastus, 372- 
287 B. C., the friend of Aristotle and the legatee of his books and 
garden. Theophrastus knew the names of more than five hundred 
plants, and classified them as Aristotle had classified animals. He was, 
however, filled with the superstitions of his time, afraid to gather peonies 
or feverfew if a hawk or buzzard was flying overhead, believed in the 
magic properties of dictamnus and mandrake, and undertook the prepar- 
ation of love-philtres and poisons. 

Somewhat later Mithridates, King of Pontus, the sixth Eupator, 
132-63 B. C, spent every spare moment of his time inventing an antidote 
for poisons, and his remedy was used for nearly two thousand years as 

1 For Herophilus and Erasistratus see Sarton, “Introduction to the History 
of Science,” vol. I. p. 159. Herophilus wrote a l>ook for midwives ( maiotikon ), 
which is often referred to as by Hippocrates. Tertullian classed him among 
the butchers. Garrison gives a good account of this period in “Medical 
Classics,” Journ. A. M. A., vol. LVI, no. 24, June 17, 1911, p. 1785. 



the mithridate or, later, as theriac or treacle. His simple formula grew 
until the mixture contained one hundred and seventy-seven ingredients 
instead of merely rue, viper’s flesh, walnuts, figs, and wine. Noted men 
from the days of Nero to Daniel DeFoe used this remedy as a preventive 
or curative for everything, especially during epidemics of the plague. 1 
Incidentally it might be said that the Greeks were most humane in giving 
to prisoners under sentence of death or to the hopelessly sick and infirm 
such comfortable poisons as hemlock (comum maculatum) , or in cutting 
the radial artery to provide euthanasia. 2 Even though the Greeks had 
so many medicines they seemed toward the end of their independence to 
have little faith in any but mithridate. Mahaff (“Old Greek Life,’’ p. 
71) says that the popular mind seized with enthusiasm on the theories 
of Hippocrates and his vis medicairix naturae. 

If we turn to the remarkable study of hygiene among the ancient 
Greeks written by Dr. Angelique G. Panayotatou, of Alexandria, 3 a 
direct descendant of the old Greek doctors, we find, p. 24, the following 
significant paragraph: “The Hellenic spirit left to all future ages its 
creative genius. It was the ferment of the social and intellectual 
organism ... Its influence was never one-sided, because the Hellenic 
spirit never expressed itself merely by one idea but by creative acts.” 
She emphasizes the fact that this creative spirit and the belief in hygiene 
carried mankind up to the days of Pasteur in spite of countless vicissitudes 
and an imperfect understanding of the causes of disease. It was only 
when the Greeks had been weakened by excesses of all kinds, together 
with malaria and ergotism, that they fell an easy prey to their enemies, 
the Romans. 

As for the later work of Greek medical women during the two 
centuries when scientific medicine in Rome was gathering momentum, it 
can be said that when Corinth fell (146 B. C.) hundreds of Greek 
women were taken prisoners to Rome ; and the medical women brought 

1 For articles on the subject see Lynn Thorndike in “Essays on the History 
of Medicine,” presented to Sudhoff, p. 13; also article in the Johns Hopkins 
Hospital Bulletin, June, 1915, by Geo. Corner, who calls theriac a “glorified 
Dover’s powder.” Andromachus, Nero's physician, wrote a poem on mithridate. 

2 Among the remedies of the Greeks are listed: sedum for skin diseases, 
bitter almonds for cough, oak gialls for metrorrhagia, veratrum for hysteria, 
dried figs and barley mixed with flax seed meal for a poultice, juniper oil on 
a tampon to prevent conception, spices and other odors for uterine troubles, 
myrtle berries for diabetes, narcissus oil for weak muscles, rue for catarrh, 
poppies for pain. 

s Panayotatou, Angelique G., “L’Hygiene chez les anciens Orecs Paris 1923. 



the highest prices in the slave market. Through all the later “dark ages” 
(716-1453 A. D.), whether as pagans or Christians, women were com- 
monly relied upon to do whatever men did not choose to do. 

From the time of the women who walked with Plato to the present 
day there have always been women who were learned, delighting in 
scholarship, refinement, and self-determination. Thus the medical 
women of the period of Hippocrates and Herophilus became the pre- 
decessors of the medical women of the nineteenth century. The work 
of Dr. Mary Kalapothakes of Athens, during the last great war, proved 
her to be truly a follower of Agnodice and Phaenarete. 


URNING from Greece to Rome and the Etruscans, historians tell 

us that few medical men or women were practicing in Italy before 
Corinth was taken in 146 B. C., when Greek physicians were carried 
to Rome as slaves. 

The early Romans, who worshipped numerous spirits corresponding 
to the objects about them and to the various activities of their lives, 
recognized many divinities who had power over their personal health. 
These spirits were named according to the diseases they healed. There 
was Scabies, Genitamana, Nascia, Fecunditas, Angitia or Angina or 
Angerona, who was the goddess of silence and of laryngitis, was 
mentioned by Macrobius, Flaccus, and Pliny as the goddess of pain and 
sore throat, and was skilled in using poisons and antidotes. It was said 
to be Fecunditas who delivered Agrippina when Nero was born, although 
Venus and Diana w'ere supposed to be present as well as the great queen 
of the gods, Juno herself. Human women impersonated the goddesses. 
At Lake Nemi the supreme goddess was Diana, one of whose at- 
tributes was to treat all diseases of women. Almost countless day 
models of the uterus have been found near her shrine, together with the 
torch, the symbol of midwives and of the Mater Matuta, who in the early 
hours of the morning opened the uterus and bade the baby come forth. 
More than two hundred years before the coming of the Greeks there 
was an altar to the Mater Matuta in the Forum Boarium, in Rome, as 
well as other temples and shrines to her along the seacoast in the 
Etruscan cities. 

Bona Dea was the symbol of fertility, health and longevity. Her 
temple on the Aventine hill contained a cave filled with herbs to cure 



sterility, and it was also the abode of sacred snakes. Pigs and money 
were offered at her shrine as at the temple of Demeter in Eleusis. 
Women were the only physicians allowed in her sacred precincts as 
healers of diseases of women. 

Feronia and Fortuna 1 were two other important goddesses with 
medical attributes, to whom numerous temples were built. The temple 
to Fortuna, at Tivoli, still stands on a high terrace above the waterfalls, 
a beautiful monument to the artistic talents of the Roman architects. 
She was the divinity of all young girls who desired babies, and her name 
was generally coupled with that of Hygeia. Salus, or Safety, was a 
colleague of Hygeia. During a plague they were helped in their work 
by Apollo and Aesculapius. A statue to Salus stood in the temple of 
Concord in the Roman Forum, where she was busily worshipped, and 
her own temple stood on the Quirinal hill. 

Carna, another goddess, had charge of both male and female in- 
ternal organs. In her honor her devotees ate bean gruel and bacon one 
day in the year in order to insure good digestion for the rest of the year. 
Cloacina and Febris were the two important deities of fevers. The 
special season of Cloacina was in February, wdien marriages were not 
allowed because the Manes, or spirits of the departed, were especially 
active sending diseases to people, and keeping Cloacina busy. Febris was 
the goddess of malarial fevers, and of the Roman marshes, and evidently 
quite unable to cope w T ith her business as the population of Rome and 
the Campagna increased. To her there were three temples on the hills 
of Rome, to which patients were taken to be purified by a severe diet and 
bitter herbs. 

M inerva, however, was the great medical goddess, as well as 
warrior. H er altar stood next to that of Jupiter himself on the 
Capitoline. Without her favor no man of the army would start for 
Gaul ; and many altars were erected to her, as well as to Mars, in 
far-away England. Even Cicero praised her skill, and said that, if any- 
one applied to her, he would need no other doctor; but Cicero also stated, 
“I believe that those who recover from illness are more indebted to the 
care of Hippocrates than to the power of Aesculapius.” 2 (De Natura 
Deorum, III, 38J. His own physician was Asclepiades, a Greek, born 
124 B. C., whom we shall discuss later. Fabulla and Foquetia are al- 
most as common names among the fabled healers of Rome as some of 

1 Fowler, W. W., “Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic,” 1899. 

2 Laneiani, Rodolfo, “Pagan and Christian Rome,” 1893, pp. 54, 60, 73. 



our names of saints today. Suidas, Eusebius, and Octavius Horatianus 
quoted them with respect. Fabulla was called by Galen “Lybica” and 

b^ Cornarius, Livia,” as if she were a living medical woman in their 
time. 1 

\ ergil gives us many a hint of the state of medicine during his life. 
I or instance, when Aeneas was wounded by an arrow, Venus told lapis 
to remove the arrow and wash the wound and heal it with the dictam- 
nus plant. 

Hie \ enus, indigno nati concussa dolore, 

Dietainnum genetrix Cretaea carpit ab Ida. 

. ( Aeneid XII, lines 411-412) 

Ovid, also, knew all the healing gods, and he especially praised Anna 

Perenna, Didos sister, ’ one of the celestial medical faculty. 

Isis and Bubastis, Egyptian goddesses of healing, were worshipped 
at Lake Nemi along with Diana, and in the ruins of their temples were 
found diadems, gold cups and plates, necklaces and other jewelry, 
draperies of heavy silk loaded with gems, vases, water jugs, and silver 
effigies of the goddesses. Lanciani speaks of the medical offerings to 
Diana at Nemi which were so numerous as to prove its great importance 
as a hydro-therapeutic center. Some of the ex-votos represent young 
mothers nursing their babies, some are surgical breasts like those found 
at tlu temple oi Aesculapius on the Island of 1 iber; and many of the 
treasures found at both these places seem to show that there were near- 
by shops manufacturing them for the pilgrims. The shrine of Minerva, 
on the Esquiline hill, has been a mine of such trinkets, among them 
certain amusing ones, like a head with bald spots presented by Tullia 
Superiana, with the legend "Restitutio sibi facta capillorum.” At Veii, 
a city in Etruria, votive offerings accumulated so fast that from time to 
time the old presents were thrown down the hillside, a cliff one hundred 
ninety-eight feet high, where, in the course of ages they formed a slope 
reaching nearly to the top of the cliff. I liese offerings were models of 
every part of the human body, outside and inside. 

But, on the other hand, there were many Romans in those early 
days who, when in pain, trusted more in their mothers and grandmothers 
than in the gods. Cato said that the average family had a good supply 
of home remedies. Cabbage was a great favorite; its leaves made 
poultices, its juice mixed with honey healed fistulas and sores, and a tea 
of cabbage was used for debility. Pliny, as we shall see later, praised 
the home-grown herbs and theriac. 

1 Lanciani, op. eit., pp. 72-73. 



Caesar imbibed somewhat of the Hippocratic spirit and more than 
half believed in the possibility of preventing disease. But, though he 
felt that something in the marshes caused malaria, he could not convince 
the Romans that they should tax themselves to drain off the water; 
for, they reasoned, if Aesculapius had willed that malaria should not be 
cured it would be folly to try to cure it. A little later, in the time of 
Augustus, the Sibylline Oracle told the Romans that, as the Greeks had 
brought malaria, so to the Greek temples of Aesculapius the Romans 
should go, get the sacred snakes there, and build temples to the Greek 
god wherever the snakes chose to live. It so happened that, after the 
battle of Actium, 31 B. C., when the Romans were bringing home the 
trophies of war, a number of yellow snakes, which were part of the 
plunder, slyly escaped from their boat while passing the island in the 
Tiber and hid there in a cave. Taking this as an omen, the Romans 
built a temple to Aesculapius above the cave, and there carried on all 
the practices of the old Greeks, erecting votive tablets telling of their 
cures, and presenting to the god models of livers and abdominal organs, 
etc., many of which are now in the archeological museums of the world. 
This temple was also used as a refuge for sick slaves who, if they did 
not die, were freed when cured. Often the cures were as sudden as at 
Lourdes today, a sloughing wound being sometimes healed the minute the 
ashes from the altar touched it; and a diet of pine cones or nuts suc- 
ceeding miraculously in stopping hemoptysis and curing a wasting cough. 
The temple sleep was, however, the important part of the cure, as even 
today in the island of Tenos, where a picture of the Virgin, said to have 
been painted by St. Luke, still works miracles of healing. 

Before the conquest of Corinth by the Romans, in 146 B. C., there 
had been little scientific medical work in what is now Italy. Plautus 
(c. 254 — 184 B. C.) and Terence (c. 195 — 159 B. C. ) , in their adap- 
tations of Greek plays, mention midwives in a disparaging sort of way, 
making allusions to their habits of imbibing too freely of strong wines. 
Ovid (43 B. C. — A. D. 18), also makes them a butt of his ridicule. He 
gives a picture of the midwives of his time, in despair over a slow labor, 
shouting to the goddess Diana for help and haste, four to seven times, 
with loud and ever louder voices, while all the people in the house sit 
with crossed legs and twisted fingers until the labor is eventually termi- 
nated. Doubtless there were midwives of that kind, but, with the ad- 
vent of the Greek slaves, well-trained midwives and doctors, conditions 
began to be greatly improved, in Italy at least. It was a very long 
time, however, before the Romans modified some of their old barbaric 



Practices as to the acceptance of the new born baby by its father. If he 
denied that the child was his it might be left to die, or thrown, like 
Romulus and Remus, to the wild beasts. If the father did claim the 
child, he named it on the ninth day, and registered it at the Treasury 
on the eleventh. The wishes of the mother were scarcely taken into, 
account until long after the Greek culture had become fashionable. 


'Jp HE nearer we come to the time of Christ, however, the more 
medical activity we find in pagan Rome; and during the principates 
of Augustus and I iberius there were many women practicing medicine 
in that city. They were called medicae, obstetricae, and sagae; and as 
Cato classed all medical practitioners with mountebanks and robbers, so 
women doctors were often classed with abortionists and poisoners. 
During the first century B. C., women did all the obstetric work in 
Italy. One can imagine their visits — in chairs borne on the shoulders 
of stalwart men who jostled one another noisily in streets so narrow 
that it was necessary to turn into a side street to let a chariot or heavily 
laden donkey-cart pass, streets in which slops of all kinds were being 
thrown to add to the filth in the gutters. One can see such muddy lanes 
today in many of the small towns on the hills throughout the Roman 
Campagna, where the old stone houses in winter are as cold as the grave 
and the people sit out of doors in the bel sole to get warm. 

In the age of Augustus many men were devoted to the study of 
medicine. A certain Philalethes wrote a book on the diseases of 
children; and Celsus, Scribonius Largus, and Musa produced works on 
general medicine. Sarton says that it was a time of application of old 
theories, however, not of scientific creation. New medical schools were 
opening everywhere, one of them having been founded privately by 
Cicero’s physician, Asclepiades, in 50 B. C. Eventually, in the time of 
Celsus, A. D. 14, this became the Scho/a medicorum of Rome. It be- 
came a government school in the time of Vespasian, and lasted until the 
time of Theodoric the Greek, A. D. 526. The teaching was done main- 
ly in Greek. 

Antonins Musa, the physician to Vergil and to Augustus, was evi- 
dently popular. Fifty years later, however, very few of his writings 
were remembered, and by the time of Galen (A. D. 131-201) only two, 



small booklets were in existence. One of Musa’s works, a book on 
diet, baths, and the necessity of fasting according to the quarter of the 
moon, was dedicated to his wealthy patient Maecenas. Maecenas was a 
hearty eater, and Musa must have felt that he was in danger of dying 
from a condition called strictum (perhaps what we call arteriosclerosis). 
Musa treated his patients according to the color of their urine, gave them 
nauseating medicines, or an herb like betony, which he used for forty- 
seven diseases, including broken heads, sore eyes, pain in the bladder, 
the bites of dogs, and the pains of labor. For Augustus he ordered cold 
baths, and thereby cured him of stomach trouble. Vergil 1 said that 
Musa was in love with his profession, beloved of his patients, popular 
with the rich as well as with the poor, knowing all drugs, but depending 
on very few. We can not fail, however, to sympathize with Horace in 
the pangs of dyspepsia, Maecenas in a fit of gout, Augustus worried 
over his pimply face, and Vergil with his consumptive cough. 

Celsus, a great medical writer, and a friend of medical women, 
“flourished,” as Sarton says, under Tiberius (i. e., from 14-37 A. D.) 
H e was a literary aristocrat, not a medical practitioner; and, though his 
work, like those of Cato and Varro, was an encyclopedia of all knowledge, 
in medicine it was the most complete of any work after that of Hippo- 
crates. 2 He belonged to none of the so-called “schools” of medicine of 
his time, being neither a Methodist (pronounced with long o) nor an 
Empyricist. Nor did he agree with his contemporary Themison, who 
paid no attention to symptoms, believing that all diseases had one and 
the same cause. The Asclepiadists were Methodists. They believed in 
a condition of strictum and laxum (i. e., tenseness and looseness), of high 
or low blood pressure. Soranus of Ephesus was an exponent of these 
theories. Themison, on the other hand, was rather an eclectic, believing 
some of the theories of the Empiricists (who were experimenters and 
students of poison). By so doing he incurred the sarcasm of Martial, 
who asks in a stinging epigram how many patients Themison has killed 
in a year. Celsus, however, wrote for all. He was a great friend of 
Horace, the poet (who died 8 B. C.), and it is said that they spent many 
a quiet hour together in the library of Augustus, on the Palatine Hill. 
Later, Juvenal was another of the group of writers of this period. He 
gives us glimpses of the medical practice of the day as he saw it, and 

1 Crawford, R., “Antonius Musa,” in “Contributions to Medical and Biological 
Research,” dedicated to Sir William Osier, 1919, vol. I, p. 24. 

2 Sarton, op. cit., p. 240. 



dilates on its vices and general immorality . 1 * He refers to the immoder- 
ate bleeding and cupping done, the large doses of aconite given for 
quartan fever, and many other remedies. He writes, of course, from 
the point of view of a layman. Celsus says that all the good doctors 
were doing their best to cure their patients both by surgery and by 
palatable drugs. Celsus was an admirer of the women doctors of Rome, 
and he gives us a picture of them in their busy practice, going about 
with pleasant tasting remedies, and followed by slaves carrying their 
instruments. These slaves collected the flasks of urine, applied leeches 
to the stncti, or gave poppy-juice to the laxati, and firmly held the 
patients during operations. Among their instruments were bronze 
handled knives with steel blades, polypus forceps with ivory handles like 
dolphins, instruments for removing arrow tips and lance heads from 
wounds, bone elevators and drill bows for trephining the skull, tenacula, 
catheters, curets, spatulas, needle holders and needles, slabs for mixing 
ointments, scales for weighing drugs, and cupping vessels. These, and 
other instruments like them, have been found in Pompeii and the other 
buried cities of this time. 

Harless- speaks of the Greek women doctors in Rome during the 
first two centuries of the Christian era as ia/rinai o- medicae. He says 
they were mainly Empiricists and midwives. Baas says that the medicae 
and sagae were the worst sinners against the Hippocratic law, and adds 
that they were often prostitutes who knew every method for producing 
abortion. Probably, as always, there were good practitioners and bad 
ones; for, as Marcus Aurelius says, “The wheel of the world hath always 
the same motion, upward and downward, from generation to gener- 
ation”; and we generally hear more about the mountebanks and quacks 
than we do about the good physicians. Of the former, Cato, Juvenal, 
and Martial tell many stories. One quack talked to his dupes through 
the mouth of a snake, and another wrote his messages on a sealed slate. 
Such men had enigmatical signs over their doors, such as, “Phoebus un- 
shown dispels the demon of disease.” 

Ncu burger, on the other hand , 3 says that the training of the women 
doctors and obstetricians of the period was often very good. They at- 
tended classes at the best Greek schools; they studied surgery as well as 

' Corcl ^ ll ’„ E ‘ F -’ “ Thp Mcclicine an(1 Doctors of Juvenal,” Johns Hopkins 
Hosp. Bull., 1903, p. 283. 

Harless, Ch. F., " Die I erdienste der Frauen urn Naturwissenschaft und 
Hedkunde,” 1930, p. 120. 

3 N'euhurger, M., " Geschichte der Mediziv,” 1911, p. 281. 



general medicine ; and they were obliged to have practical experience in 
obstetrics before taking cases of their own. 1 

Soranus of Ephesus (98-138 A. D.) 2 wrote a book on obstetrics and 
gynecology for the women students of his day, in which he says that the 
obstetrix must know how to read and write, 3 must be free from super- 
stitions, have good sight and hearing, sharp intellect, strong arms and 
legs, soft hands, and long, thin fingers with short and clean nails, must 
understand anatomy, hygiene, therapeutics, the normal as well as ab- 
normal conditions of the body, must love her work, keep secrets honor- 
ably, and have had considerable experience before undertaking to care 
for patients alone. Soranus continues, “That midwife is the most capa- 
ble who knows the whole realm of therapy, dietetics, surgery, pharmacy, 
and who can give good advice, is not worried by sudden complications 
and is prepared to save her patient’s life if possible, for she will often be 
called to visit the seriously sick.” He adds that she need not have had 
children of her own in order to care for a woman in labor, nor should 
she be very young (not under twenty years of age nor over forty). Her 
knowledge of anatomy of the hidden organs should equal that of those 
that can be seen. She should know how to perform version, but she 
should never harm a patient. Soranus makes a distinction between 
women doctors and nurses, 4 and says that a wet-nurse should have had 
three or four children of her own, be healthy, and have firm breasts. 
During difficult labor a midwife should have three assistant nurses to 
encourage the patient, rub her abdomen, be ready to receive the new 
baby, rub it with salt, and bathe it. The wet-nurse, after her body has 
become cool and rested, must always throw away the first drops of her 
milk before nursing the new baby. He condemns the custom of the 
Greeks and Scythians of plunging the new baby into cold water, and of 
bathing it in the urine of a healthy child, or in wine. If the baby does 
not cry lustily, Soranus adds, the cool air of the room will soon prove 
effective; and then it must be kept warm and lie with its head high, 
after its eyes have been bathed with water containing a little salt and 

1 Von Siebold, “Oeschichte der Geburtschulfe,” 1901, p. 163. 

2 Soranus was born in Asia Minor, tbe son of Menander and Phoebe, and 
studied in Alexandria; he believed that women were tbe divinely appointed 
agents to care for sick women and children. 

3 Liineburg, H., and Huber, J. Ch., Transl. “Die Gyndkologie des Soranus von 
Ephesus,” 1894. 

* Soranus of Ephesus, De Arte obstetricia morbisque mulierum quae super - 
sunt, Dietz, 1838. 



Sarton says that Soranus discusses the question as to whether men 
and women have different diseases because of their different functions, 
finally deciding that the two sexes do differ so markedly that women 
should be treated only by women; in fact, says he, “A midwife is de- 
manded by the public.” On the other hand, however, Zeno, Aristotle, 
Asclepiades, I hessalus, and Themison are all quoted as teaching that 
the diseases of men and women differ little. 

Soranus illustrated his gynecology with pictures of the obstetric 
chair, of syringes, the vaginal speculum, etc. His book, written in 
Greek, and in a manner easy to memorize, was copied and recopied more 
or less perfectly for hundreds of years by monks and nuns who under- 
stood scarcely a word of what they were writing. Aetius, in writing in 
the sixth century, classed Soranus as one of the four great masters: Rufus 
and Soranus, on gynecology'; Leonidas, on surgery; and Philumenus, on 
drugs. He entirely omitted the far greater Galen. 

Pliny the Elder, who was killed while watching the destruction of 
Pompeii in A. D. 79, mentioned one hundred and forty-six Roman and 
three hundred and twenty-seven Greek writers, most of them now only 
names to us because their works have been lost. Among them were 
several women writers, some of them authors of medical books. 

Unfortunately, much of Pliny’s own work has also been lost, and 
with it much information about these women which we should like to 
have. Such common names as Lais, Antiochis, Olympias, Aspasia, and 
Cleopatra occur again and again, and we wonder if some “Who’s Who” 
will ever unravel the mystery of their existence. Pliny does, however 
(Holm Lib. ed., vol. 4, p. 285) speak of Olympias, a Theban, as having 
written a valuable book of prescriptions, containing one chapter on the 
diseases of women, another on the prevention of abortions, and still an- 
other on the best way of causing an abortion if the latter is deemed 
necessary. He quotes some of her remedies for female diseases, such 
as (vol. 5, p. 360) hyssop and nitre added to bull’s gall on a pessary 
or tampon to promote menstruation. She uses a purgative to cure 
sterility (vol. 5, p. 363) ; and is careful not to produce prolapsus uteri 
by her powerful mixture of goose-grease and mallows (vol. 4, p. 285), 
although at times the use of this remedy “may be essential.” 

Photius, a Byzantine prelate of the ninth century, mentions an 
Olympias of Thebes as an important woman doctor of the time of 
Soranus. Plutarch suggests that this is the Olympias who was the 
mother of Alexander the Great; but this is unlikely because, for one 



thing, that Olympias was a specialist in poisons and their antidotes. 

Pliny also tells us 1 of two Greek medical women, Lais and Ele- 
phantis, who wrote on menstruation and abortion. Athenaeus, who 
flourished around A. D. 200, seems to corroborate this statement. 
Martial and Suetonius mention an Elephantis as a composer of obscene 
poetry. Inasmuch, however, as “Elephantis” was a common name in 
classic times, no less than six women of this name having come down to 
us, we may count it as at least possible that two persons of the same 
name have been confused. Soranus also mentions an Elephantis, who 
lectured on medicine, but who was herself so beautiful that, in order 
to keep the attention of her auditors on her subject, she was obliged to 
lecture from behind a screen. Of this Elephantis, who may have been 
the same as the one mentioned by Pliny, Lais was a contemporary. 
Pliny says 2 that both “vocatae sunt sapientes elegantesque.” Galen, 3 ' 
however, seems to refer to them as contemporaries of Soranus. That 
there was an Elephantis, noted for her medical ability, at least seems to 
be clear. 4 

Pliny also mentioned Salpe, a native of Lemnos (Bohn Lib. ed.,. 
vol. V, pp. 300, 365, 369), as believing in the use of animal remedies 
such as testicles, marrow, the heart of a lion, the brain and tail of a 
camel, fat, dung, toasted earthworms, spiders’ eggs for cavities in the 
teeth, dogs’ milk, dried cicadas for colic, millipedes rolled into a ball 
and cooked in oil for earache, the liver of a mad dog as a cure for its 
bite, menstrual fluid as a cure for malaria, and urine mixed with the 
white of an ostrich egg for bathing sore eyes. Salpe was quoted by 
Athenaeus, A. D. 200, as a writer on women’s diseases, a poet, and the 
leader of a sort of dinner club, the members of which met to eat and 
discuss interesting subjects. Pliny also mentions a Sotira as writing on 
the treatment of difficult menstruation. 

It is not surprising that gossip was busy with the medical women 
of pagan Rome at a time when morals were at the lowest ebb and there 

1 In the Bohn eel., vol. V, p. 305. 

2 Schaeher and Schmidius, “De Foeminis ex arte Claris,” 1738. 

3 “De Compositione Medicamentorum,” Lib. I, Cap. I, Sect. X. 

* Walsh. Dr. Joseph, Medical Life, vol. 35, p. 417, tells us that the midwives 
constituted a rather well educated class and attended female patients for other 
conditions as well as for their confinement. Galen was called into consultation 
as to the menorrhagia of the wife of Boethius. Me not only advised the 
medical women as to the treatment, hut insisted upon giving her massage and 
using a certain ointment as an inunction in the groin. 



was so much that was debauched and obscene. Tertullian (A. D. 150- 
230), hurled sarcasm at them for their use of speculums, tubes, hooks, 
dilators, and knives; but he, a non-medical man, could hardly have 
understood the proper uses of such instruments. The Roman ideas as 
to the viability of the fetus were those of today; and the physicians who 
lived up to the Hippocratic creed were careful not to do any harm, if 
they could not cure their patients. They had no scruples against saving 
the life of the mother by sacrificing the child, if a choice had to be made. 

A gynecological treatise ascribed to a woman doctor named Cleo- 
patra, and much used for many centuries, raises a number of problems. 
Exactly who this Cleopatra was, when she lived, or what her history, 
nobody knows. She appears to have been a contemporary of Soranus 
and Rufus, and to have either copied some of her materials from Soranus, 
or to have been the source of his materials, which last is at least proba- 
ble. Her book was much used up to the time of Moschion in the sixth 
century. At that time it became confused with his work, and remained 
so until the sixteenth century, when, in 1566, what remained of it was 
rescued by Wolff and Spach, and published in their great volume 
“ Harmonia Gynaeciorum,” a collection of the works of many writers on 
gynecology and obstetrics, both Greek and Latin, published by Caspar 
Wolff of Trier. Of a later edition of the “Ilarmonia Gynaeciorum,” 
published by Israel Spach, in 1597, H. A. Kelly says, 1 “Spach ’s volume 
is very valuable in that it has preserved many works now lost.” Spach, 
himself, in his introduction, says that he wishes he could have done more 
justice to Cleopatra. He evidently reprinted everything of hers that he 
could find. 

Theodorus Priscianus, court physician to the emperor Theodosius 
in 400 A. D., whose work is also reprinted by Spach, says that Cleopatra 
wrote her book for her daughter, Theodata, and that she drew its 
materials partly from her own experience, and partly from earlier Greek 
and Latin writers. Priscianus says, also, that there were two women 
named Cleopatra “in the time of Galen,” one the gynecologist, the other 
a writer on cosmetics. It must be remembered, on the other hand, that 
women doctors in those days made “beauty treatment” a large part of 
their practice, so that it is not unlikely that the two Cleopatras of 

1 Kelly, H. A., Johns Hopkins Hosp. Bull., 2: No. 18, 1891: Kelly says that 
Spachius was horn in 1550, studied medicine at Tubingen, was professor at 
Strassburg, and died in 1610. His great book contains nothing of his own, 
but it includes many valuable books which are now exceedingly rare in the 
original form, and it is of great importance to the student of medical history. 



Priscianus were the same person. Priscianus was evidently himself an 
admirer of women doctors, for he dedicated his own books to certain of 
his contemporaries who were medical women. 

Another difficulty about Cleopatra arises from the confusion of 
her with the famous Egyptian queen of the same name, a confusion all 
the more likely because she dedicated one of her books to a sister named 
Arsinoe, and made other allusions in her work which have been inter- 
preted as references to her own royal birth. Harless (pp. 123- 127) 
quotes from Reinesius, Merklin, and others, regarding this point. Their 
conclusions are confusing, some of them identifying her with the queen 
of Egypt, others with a writer upon magic of a later date. Tiraquellus 
and Fabricius, however, believe that this Cleopatra was a very real 
person, a gynecologist who quoted somewhat clearly the ideas of Soranus, 
though not his words. Tiraquellus mentions a Codex in the Mont- 
faucon library, “ Cleopatrae Gynaeceorum libri IV, a Sorano collecti” ; 
Piero Giacosa found fragments of her book in the Bibliotheca Angelica, 
the National library at Turin. In the latter was the dedication to 
her ‘‘ filia carissima Theodata,” and the signature “Cleopatra, Arsinoe’s 
sister.” Again, on the whole, and balancing all the evidence, it seems 
likely that Tiraquellus and Fabricius are right; that Cleopatra existed; 
and that she wrote the treatise bearing her name, which was used by 
midwives for centuries. 

Another well-known medical writer before Galen was Scribonius 
Largus, 1 physician to the Emperor Claudius, and his traveling com- 
panion on the journey to his western colonies in France, Spain, and 
Britain, in A. D. 43. Scribonius made lists of the remedies found in 
use wherever he went, adding them to those already in use in Rome. 
He ascribes remedies to thirty-five men of great reputation, but he also 
quotes from five women of eminent families of the period, as having 
studied medicine, and as enjoying dabbling with drugs and trying their 
mixtures on the members of their households. Among these he mentions 
Messalina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, described by Juvenal as a 
female horror. It is thought that she studied with a lover named 
Vettius Valens, who was the founder of a new medical sect. Of an 
earlier date were Livia, the wife of the great Augustus; Octavia, the 
sister of Augustus; and Antonia, Mark Antony’s daughter by Octavia. 

1 Scribonius Largus, “De Compositione Medicamentorum Liber,” 1529. Also 
an edition of 1655 by Rhodion with notes, illustrations, and glossary, and an 
edition translated by Wilhelm Schonack, into German, 1913, dedicated to Sud- 
hoff and Meyer-Steineg. 



Typical of Messalina’s contributions is this recipe of hers for tooth paste: 

“Venn Messalina, die Gemahlin t inseres Gotten, des Caesar, gebraucht 
folgendes Mittel: 1 Metze in einem neuen Topfe gebrannter und in Asche 
verwandelter Hirschhorner, 1 U nze Chiosischen Maslixharzes, ly, Unze Ammon- 
sals.” (Schonack ed. of Scribonius Largus, No. CO, p. 32.) 

Guglielmo Perrero, the well known Roman historian, 1 tells us that 
all the women of the time of Scribonius Largus were free to come and 
go, and study what they chose; and that the women of the nobility were 
especially well educated. 

T he sister of Augustus, Octavia, not only studied medicine and 
practiced in her home, but she encouraged the best physicians in their 
work and invented many useful remedies. Octavia became the first 
wife of Mark Antony before he became enamored of the beautiful Cleo- 
patra of Egypt. Scribonius Largus quotes from Octavia’s book of pre- 
scriptions a remedy for tooth ache (Schonack, p. 32). It was made of 
barley flour, honey, vinegar mixed with salt, and baked, then pulverized 
w ‘th charcoal and scented with certain nard (or spikenard) flowers. 
She also recommended Messalina s tooth paste, and also another one 
made of ground glass and radish skin, and still another compounded of 
pellitory and ground bone. 2 

Of the remedies copied by Scribonius, a few are worth quoting. 
For ulcerated sore throat she gave a mixture of spikenard and honey 
with myrrh, saffron, alum, caraway seeds, celery, and anise seeds (Scho- 
nack, p. 36)- A plaster (Schonack, p. 81), to draw out animal poisons 
contained orris root, the fat of dog’s brain, milk of wild figs, dog’s blood, 
turpentine, ammonia, wax, oil, and onions. Por angina she used a 
mixture of ox-gall, pyrethrum, elatcnum, honey, hvssop, and pepper. 
Scribonius says that this was almost strong enough to raise the dead. 
He gi\ cs us her remedy for sciatica (Schonack, p. 117), containing sweet 
marjoram, rosemary leaves, Falernian wine, and olive oil. This had to 
have several mixings, strainings, and heatings; then it had to be com- 
bined with wax and kept in an earthen jar for future use as a plaster. 
A variety of remedies were used to cure neuralgia. Scribonius says 
that he can testify to the value of the following prescription for intense 
pain (edition of Ruellius, p. 183) : “Take lard or goose-grease, add wine, 
cardamom seeds, rose leaves, various nards and cinnamon”; but he does 
not say how this mixture is to be used. P'or a wonderful salve to soothe 
the pains of childbirth — “quite analgesic,” Scribonius says it was — one 

1 Ferrcro, G., “The Women of the Caesars,” 1911. 

3 Schelenz, H., “Geschichte der Phnrmacie,” 1901, p. 165. 



took lard and rose leaves, cypress, and wintergreen. They also prepared 
a famous ointment called acopurn, to be used with “great friction,” for 
pain in the back; while for the bite of a mad dog or for poisoned food, 
there was a remedy (Schonack, p. 8 1 ) , containing iris root, castor bean, 
turpentine, and sal-ammoniac. This was to be kept in glass and used 

During the first and second centuries after the birth of Christ, 
there was more medical activity in the Roman world than ever before. 
Among the common people there was more opportunity for study, and 
more opportunity for medical work by women. 

Photius mentions an “honesta matrona” who could cure epilepsy, 
sterility, and the diseases of elderly women. Witkowski 1 mentions a 
certain Marpessa who, while fighting in battle beside her husband, being 
taken with the pains of childbirth, was helped off the field, and delivered 
by a midwife named Lasthenia. Several ancient writers mention a 
famous woman doctor who, if we may judge from the words, “mulier- 
cula,” and “A fricana,” was little, and from Africa. She became popular 
because of her remedies for pain in the eyes and abdomen. Scribonius 
Largus calls her also an “honesta matrona One of her prescriptions, 
quoted by him, contained ivory dust (a treatment for epilepsy) ; another 
was made of crocodile’s blood, and was prescribed for anemia in men, 
whereas dove’s blood was used for the same disease in women. She, like 
Messalina, used the burnt horns of a stag mixed with spices for various 
complaints. Galen praised this remedy, saying, “hoc medicamento mu- 
liercula quaedam Romae ex Africa multos remediavit,” and he adds that 
she sold it at so high a price that it was difficult for him to obtain it. 
The directions for compounding the prescription require five hundred 
words in the German translation. 2 Both Galen and Scribonius had 
studied at Alexandria in Africa ; as had another contemporary of theirs, 
Aretaeus the Cappadocian ; 3 it is not impossible that the “little woman 
doctor” was also in their classes. All four followed the great Hippo- 
crates, believing in simple remedies carefully prepared, and also in the 
humoral theory. Aretaeus, however, had a peculiar and original belief 

1 Witkowski, G. J., “Accoucheurs et Sages-Femmes ctlebres,” 1891. 

2 See Schonack's ed. of Seribonius, p. 61. 

3 Cordell, E. F., “Aretaeus the Cappadocian,” Johns Hopkins IIosp. Bull., 
vol. 20, p. 371. It is worth noting that, although Aretaeus was from the 
Alexandrian school, and was living in Rome while Galen was working there, 
neither mentions the other in any remaining volume of their work. Twenty-two 
volumes of Aretaeus are lost, including what he wrote on gynecology. 



concerning the uterus. He had an idea that the uterus has intelligence 
of its own, and that it moves up and down or right or left, of its own 
volition. He also thought that the brain is the seat of the sensation, 
the blood the food of the body and the transmitter of heat, the liver 
the source of the blood and white bile, the spleen the strainer of the 
blood and manufacturer of black bile, and the lungs sponges without 
feeling or importance. Scribonius, on the other hand, concerned him- 
self not so much with anatomy and physiology as with drugs. His book 
became the first dispensatory. In it he describes 242 plants, 36 minerals, 
and 27 animal products, all more or less employed in his own time. 


[^ANCIANI 1 gives us a vivid picture of the sanitation of Rome in the 

second century, when the city had 800.000 inhabitants. The drink- 
ing water was contaminated, the sewers were clogged, and the burial of 
the poor was in great public pits along with the refuse and garbage of the 
inhabitants. He calculated that one pit, uncovered after two thousand 
years, must have contained 6400 bodies, the odor from which was “still a 
horrible stench.” The rich were cremated and their ashes placed in 
columbaria. Varro, a Sabine (116-27 B. C.) in his "De Re Rustica," 
wrote that pestilences had raged in Rome, and that malaria was rampant 
during his lifetime. He thought that these diseases came from the 
marshy districts of the Roman Campagna where, he remarks with 
astonishing prescience, ‘insects prosper but are so infinitesimal that no 
human eye can see them or detect their presence.” Where there was so 
much sickness there undoubtedly was a need for medical women as well 
as men. 

Among the medical women mentioned by Galen are Favilla, Ori- 
genia, whose remedies for hemoptysis and diarrhea he praised; Eugerasia, 
who had a remedy for nephritis containing squills, bryonia, white pepper, 
cedar berries, iris root, myrrh and wine; Meurodacia (whom he calls 
Maia) perhaps a midwife; and .Marga reta, an army surgeon, a sig- 
nificant appointment. Galen mentions several prescriptions of women 
doctors which he found useful, one prepared by Samithra and another 
by Xanita, that of the latter being like a Dover’s powder in composition. 
That women had most of the gynecological practice appears likely. 
Galen fails to mention a woman as a patient except in consultation. 

1 Lanciani, op. cit. p. 104. 



Metrodora, mentioned sometimes as a contemporary of Soranus, 
wrote a Greek treatise on diseases of the uterus which, in a manuscript 
of the twelfth century, is still in existence in the Laurentian library in 
Florence. Sarton (p.283) says that nothing is known of her except 
that she wrote this treatise, “which seems quite valuable,” and he adds 
that it is probably the oldest extant medical treatise composed by a 
woman. It consists of 263 pages on parchment, divided into 108 chap- 
ters; deals with diseases of the uterus, stomach and kidneys, and contains 
many valuable prescriptions for these diseases. Harless (p. 130) sug- 
gests she may have been a man, but for no reason apparently except that 
there was also a Metrodorus, a man doctor. 

The famous Galen himself, physician to Marcus Aurelius, was the 
greatest medical writer after Hippocrates. Up to the seventeenth 
century, his works were used by every school of medicine. He was born 
in Pergamon, in Asia Minor, A. D. 129, and lived until A. D. 201. His 
medical books were never seriously criticized by the Church even after 
it became the dictator in politics, religion, and medicine, and this notwith- 
standing that Galen lived and died a pagan. Vesalius and Paracelsus, 
in the sixteenth century, were the first to refute certain of his statements 
about anatom} r . To the emperors of his time, however, he was the 
oracle of all medical wisdom. His special interest was a medical school 
on the Esquiline Hill near the palace and gardens of Maecenas. This 
school is also of interest to us because one of Galen’s colleagues and 
friends at this school was a woman doctor named Antiochis, a specialist 
in diseases of the spleen, in arthritis, and in sciatica; and concerned for 
the preservation of female beauty. Galen is recorded to have copied her 
prescription for a plaster to use in dropsy and sciatica, another for pains 
in the chest, and one for gout in the feet. There has been some con- 
fusion as to the identity and date of this Antiochis of Galen’s time, for 
the reason that there was also a woman doctor of the same name in the 
time of Heraclides of Tarentum, in the first century B. C. 1 2 It was 
probably to the Antiochis of the second century that the town of 'l'los 
in Asia Minor erected a monument which reads as follows: “Antiochis, 
daughter of Diodatos of Tlos, the Council and officers of the town, in 
appreciation of her medical ability raised this statue at their own ex- 
pense. - 

We should now speak of a Greco-Roman woman doctor of this 

1 Clericus, “Hist Med.,” p. 434, on the authority of Asclepiades, Lib. IV. 

2 Lipinska, M., “Histoire des femmes medecins,” 1900, p. 58. 



period named Aspasia , 1 * known to us only by fragments of her work 
quoted by Aetius in his great four-volume cyclopedia, the " Tetrabiblion."- 
In this work Aspasia was praised by Aetius for her great skill in podalic 
version, in the diagnosis of fetal positions, and in her treatment of dys- 
menorrhea. In one chapter he quotes her method of managing difficult 
labor; in another chapter he tells how she provokes the death of the fetus 
when necessary; and another chapter is on the treatment of suppressed 
menstruation. Speaking generally, Aspasia seems to have tried to im- 
press her pregnant patients with the necessity of being extremely careful 
not to cause abortion. T hey should not take chariot rides over rough 
ground, nor exercise violently, nor worry needlessly, nor carry heavy 
loads, not eat spicy and indigestible foods, nor be bled. Instead they 
should be happy, live quietly, eat sparingly, and take mallows, lettuce, 
barley juice and such simple medicines for constipation. At the time 
of labor they should have hot drinks, hot sitz baths and call the obstetrix. 

I he contributions of this Aspasia seem so significant that it may be 
worth while to quote them at greater length . 3 

In the opening chapter of the “ T etrabibUon,” Aetius 4 discusses gener- 
ation, pregnancy, sterility, labor, the anatomy of the uterus, and menstru- 
ation, the latter classed by Aspasia as a “purgation.” She notes that its 
painlessness depends upon food, exercise, diseases, etc. As to the desire 
for strange foods during pregnancy, its nausea and swollen feet, Aetius 
gives, in each case, almost a chapter of quotations from Aspasia. 

In Chapter XII he quotes her as to the prevention of abortion, the 
necessity for the patient to avoid violent exercise, hard falls, eating in- 
digestible food, and constipation. She advises laxatives such as rhubarb, 
lettuce, dock, mallows, etc. 

In Chapter XV she treats of difficult labor when the introitus is 
narrow, her treatment being the application to the vulva of hot lotions 
made from olive oil, mallows, flax seed, the oil from a swallow’s nest, 
herbs, etc. If the placenta is adherent the patient must close her mouth 
and nostrils and force it out! To prevent conception wool tampons 

1 Baas, “Gruiulriss dcr Oesrhichte der Medicin,” 1876, p. 72. 

3 Aetius of Amida in Mesopotamia (A. D. 627-566) wrote in Greek hut his 
“Tetrabiblion” was translated into Latin and later printed by order of Pope 
Clement VII, in 1534. It fdls 2000 pages in double columns. 

3 Peter Baily says that there were three Aspasias, one the wife of Pericles, 
another famous at the time of Artaxerxes, and a third, the one quoted by 
Aetius, “who practised in old times.” Some think there was a fourth Aspasia, 
of unknown date, whom Aetius himself mistook for the earlier one. 

* Aetius, Amideus, “Mcdicae art is principes post Hippocratum et Galenwm,” 



soaked with a preparation of herbs, pine-bark, nut-galls, myrrh, wine, 
etc., are to be placed in the vagina. This treatment is to be used in 
case it is dangerous for the patient to become pregnant, not otherwise. 

In Chapter XVIII are directions for causing abortion ; on the 
thirteenth day after the date of missed menstruation the patient is to 
be hauled and pulled by several people and jerked about, or she must 
lift heavy burdens, use high douches of strong herbs, take hot sitz baths, 
and drink a tea of rue, artemisia, oxgall, eleterium, absinthe, and violet 
roots. She must have poultices on the abdomen. On the fourth month 
the child will be dead, and labor will commence. After labor the patient 
is to be bled profusely. 

In Chapter XXV, Aspasia gives the following advice: After the 
removal of a dead fetus the patient should have soft foods, injections, 
purgatives, but avoid hot drinks. The pubes and vulva are to be 
anointed with oils, and, if fever appears, astringent foods are to be given, 
and she is to be bled freely. Aetius in this chapter quotes other writers 
on the subject of sterility, the care and treatment of the breasts, and 
surgical operations. 

For suppressed menstruation Aspasia and Rufus 1 both advise ex- 
amining the patient to see if the uterine os is closed or can be stretched ; 
if the opening is enlarged by cutting it must be kept open for fear of 
contraction. Soranus of Ephesus of the second century is also quoted 
as advising Cleopatra’s treatment for menorrhagia and prolapsed uterus 
by tampons. He says that a prolapsed uterus may have to be removed 
by surgery, but this is so dangerous that a tampon and belt, with rest in 
bed, are safer. 

In Chapter LXXVII Aetius quotes Aspasia again as to the treat- 
ment of malpositions of the uterus. These are due, she says, to the veins 
from the liver being so full that the weight of the bowels and flatus push 
the uterus away from its usual place. Her treatment is by tampons 
of tar or bitumen or hot oil. She replaces the uterus with her fingers. 
If there is suppression of the urine she says it may be necessary to make 
an artificial opening into the bladder. An enlarged uterus is to be 
scarified and tamponed. Operations to remove uterine tumors, and even 
peritonitis, seem to have had no terrors for these authors. 

In Chapter XCII Aspasia gives rules for treating noma of the uterus 
by the milk of a horse or ass; the patient’s hips are to be elevated and 

1 Rufus of Ephesus was a contemporary of Soranus of Ephesus. They lived 
in the first part of the second century A. D., and were contemporaries of 



a tea of iris root, with absinthe and mallows, is to be poured into the 

In Chapter XC\ II she treats hemorrhoids of the uterus by surgical 
methods, followed by tampons of mallows, red-earth, rose-water, the juice 
of mandragora, hemlock, etc., according to the rules of Hippocrates, 
adapted by herself. 

Chapter C is on surgery. Aspasia dissects and replaces the in- 
testines for hernia, closes the wound with two or three sutures, and ad- 
vises against the use of wet dressings. 

In Chapter CII she treats varicose hernias by resection, separating 
the adherent membrane and sewing it to other parts of the sack. 

Chapter CVII, on condylomata of the vulva, explains how Aspasia 
softened them by hot fomentations and astringent salves. 

We can only regret that the writings of Aspasia as a whole have 
not come down to us; for it is evident from the above quotations that 
she was a highly intelligent surgeon and obstetrician, indeed quite the 
equal of any man of her time. Aetius must also have seen the work of 
Cleopatra on obstetrics and cosmetics, for he quotes from her at great 
length. He makes the mistake of calling her Queen Cleopatra, but this 
was perhaps excusable. In any event we are grateful to him for the 
records he rescued from oblivion. 

One strong evidence both of the existence and of the popularity of 
women doctors is to be found in the legends on their tombstones. This 
is as true in the Roman world as it was in Greece. Some of these gentle 
reminders were erected by patients to their doctors; others were set up 
by husbands to exemplary wives who were medical women ; others have 
merely a name followed by' the Christian refrain, in pace. In the 
"Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum," Lanciani found the names of literal- 
ly hundreds of physicians, both men and women, and belonging to the 
great families. He mentions Julia Pia, Minnia, Torentia, Venuleia, for 
example, “who attended women in confinement.” 

Among the inscriptions 1 that may have dated from Greco-Roman 
times are the following: Sallustia Q. L. Merita; Marcia L. A grippinae 
Opstetrix; Julia Liberia Sabina, Minucia Medica, which may be trans- 
lated, “Julia, a Sabine woman, the freed slave of Minucia, a doctor.” 
There is another 2 3 which reads: He l pis Liviae ad V aleiudinem. An- 
other ’ 1 is: Secutula Livillae S. Medica. Another , 4 from Verona, reads: 

1 Gruterius, Janus, Inscriptiones Antiquae, 1707. 

3 Spolir, “Mis cel. mitiq. erudit.” 

3 Quoted by Le Clere and Jeanne Chauvin. 

1 Quoted both by Gruter and Iihodius, “an elegant monument to a woman 



C. Cornelius Meliboeus, sibi et Sentiae. Elidi Medicae Contubernali, 
(his companion). Another 1 is from Urbino: Deis Manib. Juliae 0 . L. 
Sabmae Medicae. Q. Julius Atmeius conjugi bene merenti. Another: 
Forella T. L. Melarn ona Medica a Mammis (from a collection by 
Walch). From Nimes in southern France 2 comes this: Flaviae Hedones 
Medicae Ex T. The following comes from the fountain of the Trevi, 3 
in Rome: Minucia C. F. Aste Medica. Also this 4 is from Rome, to a 
priestess doctor: Secunda Fivillae S. Medica, Ti. Claudius Caesaris. F. 
Celer. Aedituus A. Vesta. In the Corpus 3 collected by J. K. Bailie 
(1846), we find (vol. II, p. 94) one in Greek to Casilontis, a medical 
woman: Sonatotheke Kasilontos Trines. In Gruter there are several 
epitaphs to nurses, such as this one: Cassia L. F. Zmytha , nutrix, V. A. 
XXIX (Gruter p. DCLX, no. 2) ; and this from a nurse to her little 
patient: D. XI. S. Emilii. Nisi Vixit. Mensib. XI, Fecit Valeria Hygia, 
Nutrix. Gruter also gives several epitaphs to obstetrices, such as this: 
Antoniae. Aug. F. Thalassae, Opstetric , (p. DCLXXXVI, no. 5). 
And another (p. DCLII, no. 10) from Rome: Sex Pompeius Sex. F. 
Daphnis Gram Chloe. Pompeiae Appi. Obst.; and this: Atia Dynamis 
Obst. And (no. 4) found at Tibur: Mariae C. et Suavitate F. Agre- 
pinae. Obstetrici. There is still another (D. C. XXXVI, no. 6) : Sal- 
lustia, O. F. Imeria Opstetrix, Sallustius Q. F. Artemidorus Arescusa, 

It must be noted that none of these epitaphs come from Christian 
tombs, and that many of them offer some difficulty in translation. Taken 
as a whole, however, they show that in the Greco-Roman period there 
were women doctors, as well as nurses and obstetricians; and that all 
these various sorts of medical women were in good standing. 

Before closing this chapter on the Greco-Roman period in the 
history of medicine a hasty review or summary of the medical treat- 
ment, the hospitals, and the schools may be worth while. We have 
seen that there were several medical sects, each with its schools and 
teachers, culminating in the great school of Galen, which in one form 
or other, but always based on Hippocrates, lasted for hundreds of years. 

1 Quoted by Scribonius Largus, and also Gruter, p. DCXXXVI. 

2 Gruter, vol. I., p. CCCXII. 

3 Gruter, vol. I., p. CXXXVI. 

4 Gruter, vol. I., p. CCCXII. 

6 See also Bailie, J. K., “Fasciculus Tnscriptionem Graecarwm” C 1842-184-9) . 
See also Henzen, Wilhelm, et Rossi, J. B., “Inscriptiones Urbis Romae, 
Latinae,” (1876-89), and Hiihner, “Inscript, Hisp. Lat.” (1869). AlsoNunn. 
H. P. V., “Christian Inscriptions,” 1920. 



We can almost imagine Nero fiddling a tune to the names of the drugs 
mentioned by Dioscorides, his physician, so mellifluous do they sound; 
belladonna, helleborus, aconitum, and many others. Pliny and Dio- 
scorides have given us lists of more than six hundred plants used in 
medicine along with many disgusting and loathsome animal remedies 
given for a purely psychic effect. These lists were copied and, what is 
worse, used by physicians for sixteen hundred years. We shudder today 
at the remedies praised by Pliny, the spider’s eggs, dog’s milk, dried 
cicadas, millipeds rolled into pills, animal’s dung, and others equally filthy 
and useless; but at the same time we are more or less amused at the 
absurdity of a host of other so-called remedies. With a pill of reseda, 
or mignonette, for example, the patient must spit three times and say, 
“Reseda, allay this disease! Knowest thou not what chick hath torn 
up these roots? Let it have nor head nor feet .” 1 To cure catarrh, tie 
two fingers together for a while. To heal a sore, take the roots of 
asphodel, hang them up in smoke to dry and the sore will be healed. 
To cure toothache, dig up a root of erigeron, spit into the hole, 
touch the tooth with the root, spit again, replace the root in the hole 
and the pain will vanish. To beget a black-eyed baby, eat a rat. For 
easy parturition, let the husband or lover tie his belt around the patient 
and then quickly remove it. The baby will be born speedily. Diseases 
of the uterus will be healed by wearing the milk-tooth of a child on a 
bracelet. The tongue of an eagle, worn as an amulet, cures cough. For 
styes on the eye, cut off the heads of a few flies and rub the eyelids with 
their bodies. For pain in the bowels wash the feet and then drink the 
water. A few little bugs found in the body of a spider, if bound to the 
flesh of an over-fecund woman, will prevent her conceiving for a year. 
To keep the hair from falling out impale fifteen frogs on bulrushes, etc. 
It is a relief to know that Galen rejected many of these remedies of 
Pliny, such, for example, as these: frog’s blood rubbed over plucked eye- 
brows will prevent the hair from growing again, and a bath of viper’s 
blood will remove hair from the arm-pits. Pliny had told his somewhat 
skeptical nephew that these remedies must be good, for he had consulted 
two thousand books and one hundred reliable authors for them. Proba- 
bly Dioscorides had done the same in order to write his six volumes on 
materia medica. It is interesting to note that some of these old remedies 
are still used. Worm oil, cobwebs, urine and dung are still “medicine” 
to many foreigners in America; while among the Siamese seven bedbugs 

1 Thorndike, Lynn, “Magic and Experimental Science,” vol. I, p. 23. 



wrapped in skin and swallowed are supposed to cure malaria, and roast 
grasshoppers are “good for” other diseases. 

We have seen that women doctors taught medicine, cared for the 
patients at the dispensaries, performed operations, and were the chief, 
or the only, obstetricians. Horace said that “their rewards were good, 
though gained at the price of fatigue,” and, we may add, of near oblivion. 
They had slaves to roll their bandages, mix their pastes and poultices, 
and brew their herbs. If women doctors were employed in private 
families they were valued highly; and if they were slaves they brought 
the highest prices in the market, even as much as sixty pieces of gold. 
It was their duty to care for the children in the orphan asylums, one of 
which in the time of Trajan had five thousand waifs. And they had 
charge of the women in the private hospitals on such great estates as 
those of the emperors Hadrian (A. D. 117-138) and Antoninus Pius (A. 
D. 138-161), and Marcus Aurelius (A. D. 161-180), all of whom built 
very comfortable and sanitary hospitals for their guests, their servants, 
and themselves. Celsus complains that these private hospitals were better 
than those for the general public, and Lanciani says that the cooks of 
Augustus fared better when ill than many of the wealthy people. Cer- 
tainly in sickness a woman doctor of the day, having practical and edu- 
cated common sense, however much her medical knowledge may have 
lacked scientific basis, was better than a Pliny, with his undiscriminating 
collecting of remedies, a Musa with his fads, a Celsus with his purely 
literary instincts, or the men quacks whom Martial and Juvenal mocked. 1 

In comparison with the medical women of today there may have 
been in classic times as many women writers in proportion to their 
numbers as now. But women doctors, with their multifarious duties, 
seldom write medical books unless they have something new to say or 
have a gift for literary work. It is one’s every-day work that really 
counts in the world. Sir Auckland Geddes 2 has said that much of the 
work of the medical profession is not man’s work, and that consequently 
the majority of its men members with difficulty find inspiration in 
their daily rounds. He adds further, “Unconsciously women possess 

1 For references in connection with these statements see the following books: 

Walsh, Joseph, “The Second Galen,” Medical Life, Sept., 1930. 

Pater, Walter, “Marius the Epicurean,” 1885, pp. 108-174. 

Cumston, Charles Green, “Introduction to the History of Medicine,” 1926, 

p. 180 . 

2 Geddes, Sir Auckland, “Social Reconstruction and the Medical Profession.” 
Contributions to Medical and Biological Research, dedicated to Sir William 
Osier, 1919, p. 78. 



that sense for the future which is the essence of the emotion of human 
betterment. But women lose their own identity in their professional 
life unless they publish some new and startling discovery; and invention 
and discovery are not common feminine qualities. 

Chapter II 

The Medical Women OI The 
Early Middle Ages 


T HAT the female conscience, and woman’s naturally altruistic in- 
stincts for social service, have always been strong, needs no more 
proof than the history of the women in medicine as we have found 
it in the ages before Christianity. We have seen that, from the earliest 
times, the words “priest” and “physician,” and “priestess” and “woman 
doctor,” were often synonymous. We might wish that the “wise 
woman” of primitive peoples had had more knowledge of medical science; 
for primitive medicine consisted mainly in pummelings and sweatings and 
sacrifices to the gods, followed by bleedings and purgings, with the 
alternative, or substitute, of journeys to holy shrines. The primitive 
surgery with flint knives and bone needles was faithfully followed by 
exactly the same operations with bronze or steel instruments. There 
was little new invention, no careful study of the action of drugs. 

In any event, as a rule, in no country except that of the Hebrews 
and, during certain periods, among the Greeks, did women hold medical 
positions much inferior to those of men, and even among the Jews their 
inferiority was not pronounced until near the time of Christ. During 
the Middle Ages, the feeling of feminine inferiority was intensified by 
the Church, and the education of women was more or less neglected. 
Considering, however, the sterility of much of the education of the 
Middle Ages this was not, so far as women doctors were concerned, an 
unmixed ill. Women were usually closer to their patients than men. 
With their love for detail and their sense of pity for the sick and feeble 
they turned to the practical side of medicine ; they wanted only to pre- 
scribe intelligently for their patients, and to nurse them with gentleness 
and skill. 



In investigating the work and industrial conditions of medical 
women down the ages it is, naturally, impossible to find any sharp line 
of demarcation between one century and the next. Especially is this 
true of the Roman Empire just before and after the birth of Christ. In 
fact, during the first four hundred years of Christianity, there was very 
little change in the manners and morals of men and women under Roman 
rule. Neither the story of art and literature nor of wars and religious 
persecutions is the whole story of humanity, nor is the lack of biographi- 
cal record any proof of the lack of important personages during any 
century. Because the early Christians kept no adequate records, as far 
as \\c know, of their medical women, is by no means proof that there 
were none. On the contrary, from such scattered scraps of evidence 
as we have, it is safe to assume that there were women practitioners 
during this period, and that some of them were probably quite as learned 
as the average medical man of the day. 

If we think of the first centuries of the Christian era as wholly 
dark with, wars, pestilences, and immorality, we overlook their brighter 
side, and miss the happiness of the little band of Christians, cheerful even 
in the midst of their persecutions, although perhaps Gibbon exaggerates 
when he says that the centuries between Nero and Diocletian were the 
happiest and quietest of the Middle Ages. From a woman’s point of 
view, a declining birth rate, and an ever increasing death rate, and the 
suffering and torments of the victims of religions persecution are not 
marks of a happy age. 

W e may reconstruct something of the home life of the Roman in 
the eat h centuries of Christianity. 1 he marble palaces of the rich were 
built around open courts in which there were fountains, or statuary and 
flowers; the walls were decorated with paintings, the furniture costly 
and comfortable. The costumes of these patricians were artistic and 
elaborate, of silk or linen or fur, and they ate imported foods from gold 
or silver or glass dishes. The homes of the poor, on the other hand, 
could not have been very different from the homes of peasants in Greece 
and Portugal and the hill-towns of Italy in the nineteenth century, 
cheerless, built of native stone or clay, mere huts with straw roofs, 
earthen floors, and a hole under the eaves for the escape of smoke. Their 
beds were mats or boughs laid on the floor. Their cooking in fair 
weather was done over charcoal, out-of-doors. I here were no windows 
or chimneys. I heir clothes were of the coarsest of home-spun wool. 
They went bare-footed, and they ate black bread, goat’s-milk cheese. 


onions, wild honey, and fruits in season. If they were slaves, each was 
carefully taught to do a special kind of work. We must remember that 
many of the Roman patricians in pagan times were exceedingly kind to 
their slaves, and sometimes freed them as a reward for their intelligence 
and faithfulness. Some of these slaves were so well educated that they 
saved their owners all care and responsibility. 

It was one of the chief interests of some of the rich to keep scribes 
and copyists continually at work augmenting their libraries, an interest 
for which we today may well be thankful ; for, of all the medical books 
copied during the first two or three centuries, A. D., mainly in Greek or 
in translations from the Greek, all the originals have been lost. We 
have no way of finding out, of course, how accurate the extant trans- 
lations and copies are. Many of the great libraries of Rome were burnt 
at one time or other; repeatedly copies were made from copies; errors 
were repeated from copy to copy, while, with each re-copying, new errors 
crept into the text. 

In no age was immorality more common. Abortion was technical- 
ly illegal, but everywhere performed. Sexual license in men was con- 
doned. Medicine, naturally, took somewhat the color of its time ; but 
in a professional environment created by men like Galen and women like 
Aspasia conditions could not have been wholly bad, even at a time when 
social immorality was at its worst. We read that there was a “mid- 
wifery atmosphere” at that time in Rome, and therefore, whether with 
babies or abortions, the ” obstetrices id est medicae ” were of course busy. 
We know that Aspasia, Cleopatra and Metrodora were writing earnest- 
ly of the dangers of abortions, even while Juvenal was scoffing against 
the immoral midwives who constantly produced them. It is true, of 
course, that many of the midwives of the period called sagae (the sages- 
fe tames of the French) made abortion their main practice. These sagae 
had many extraordinary remedies for amenorrhea, as well as love philters 
and aphrodisiacs. Among the latter were the vaginal secretion of a 
pregnant mare, and the roots of plants that looked like the sexual organs. 
Julia, the daughter of the emperor Titus, died from an abortion. Fathers 
gave away unwanted babies, and had their sons castrated for mere whims. 
Pliny, Horace and Ovid all tell astounding tales of the lack of chastity 
among the people of Rome of their time. 

The real woman doctor and trained midwife, the obstetrix id est 
medica, refused to be classed with the sagae, or abortionists, against whom 
legislation was always active. Moschion, in the sixth century A. D., has 



Ui'.in us his idea, of a true obstetrician, in words quoted literally from 
Hippocrates, who lived nearly a thousand years earlier. She should, he 
says, be highly intelligent, very studious, physically strong, have self- 
control, be moral, quiet and prudent. 1 Martial makes no distinction 
between the woman doctor, the gynecologist and the obstetrix, evidently 
considering them as one and the same, but even he distinguished between 
nurses and sagae. 

1 he profession of medicine, however, was so well paid that even 
quite uneducated people hung out their signs as doctors. As Martial 
puts it, “quisque medicus sive mas cuius, sive femma” could obtain a per- 
mit to practice. Oribasius (A. D. 326-4.03 ) , felt that conditions by his 
time had become so bad that he proposed all boys and girls in school 
should have six months’ teaching in medicine, both to fit them somewhat 
for the care of the sick, and also to make them at least able to discrimi- 
nate between impostors and real physicians. Oribasius also advocated 
having the drugs in an apothecary’s shop labelled so that every man 
could be his own doctor. The amount of hocus pocus during these 
centuries was almost incredible. I emple sleep had been revived. Priests 
and priestesses were pretending to cure such a disease as tuberculosis with 
pine-cone powder in honey, and to draw out the sting of a viper by 
means of a stone taken from the grave of a young girl. 

Rome, in fact, in the early years of Christianity could not be com- 
pared medically with Athens in the time of Hippocrates, 2 * * 5 and surgery 
was more carelessly done than in the time of Augustus. Osier, in his 
Bibliotheca Prima. no. 31, tells us that Antyllus, A. D. 250, was the first 
modern surgeon to resect bones, repair fistulae, or enucleate cataracts, 
which means that the two hundred different kinds of surgical instru- 
ments, such as those found in the ruins of Pompeii and used in the first 
century, must have lain more or less unused for two hundred years, leer- 
ing at quacks. Martial remarks that Symmachus takes his pupils with 
him to the bedside of his patients, sometimes a hundred at once, with the 
result that, if the patient had not been feverish before, he would be after 
a hundred had examined him with their cold fingers! Evidently Martial 
and Juvenal, like Moliere at a later age, were aware of the sensitive 
spots of their contemporaries. Juvenal says that, whether a man were 

1 Von Siehold, Eduard Caspar Jacob, “History of Obstetrics,” 18 89, p. 156, 

quotes Moschion in these words: “Quid eat o'bstetTix?” and the answer is, 

“Ever}- woman is an obstetrix who is learned in the diseases of women and 

is called upon to cure their diseases by the art of medicine.” 

5 V ithington, E. T., “Medical History from the Earliest Times,” 1894. 


an eye doctor or a gladiator, he went about his business in the same 
manner; and again, he asks “How many patients did Themison kill in 
one year?” the reply being, “As many as there are infirmities in an old 
man.” In another place he takes a fling against the abortionists: 

“Poor women will hear children, and by stress 
Of circumstance feed them more or less, 

But you will never find expectant mothers 
In gold-embroidered beds. The midwife smothers 
The hope of life within them, that’s her trade.” 

From Martial we pick the following: 

A doctor once, Diaulos now 
Prepares men for the grave. 

A prudent man, he reaps the fruit 
Of all the drugs he gave. 

(Book I, XLYII transl. by F. W. Nicolson) 

and another: 

He bathed and supped with me — how bright he seemed; 

Next morn they found him dead. What fell disease 
Slew him so suddenly? Alas he dreamed 
That by him stood the quack, Hiarmocrates. 

(Book VI, LI 1 1, transl. by Wright). 

Although Martial and Juvenal made fun of quack doctors and im- 
postors, their tribe continued to increase. A generation after Juvenal, 
Quintus Serenus Samonicus (put to death A. D. 21 1 by Caracalla), in- 
vented all sorts of magical words to be used as or with medicines. The 
word abracadabra, for instance, written on parchment in a cone shape 
which left off one letter in each line, was a cure for any disease, if the 
parchment were worn suspended from the neck for nine days. In other 
cases the patient was told to throw a piece of parchment containing this 
charm into a running stream, or to boil it with medicine; sometimes its 
use was to be accompanied by a formula repeated fifty times. Some- 
times the charms were written in rhyme for easy memorizing. What- 
ever the trick, Samonicus got rich by his system. Perhaps “Every day, 
in every way,” etc., originated with him! 

Besides Samonicus there was a Crinas of Marseilles, who claimed 
to cure patients by appealing to the stars for their benefit. It was said 
that he became so rich from his practice as to be able to pay for a war ! 
Lucian, a contemporary of Galen, who died A. D. 200, agrees that many 
of the medical teachers of the day were profane, impudent boasters. On 
the other hand, a few were, like Galen, well trained and honorable. 
Certain " obstetric es id est medicae,” says Lucian, were officially appoint- 
ed to determine pregnancy in doubtful cases, or to determine the paterni- 
ty of foundlings. 




^ ECU, then, were the conditions of medical life and practice at the 
time of the death of Galen, the beginning of the third century after 
Christ. It is worth noting that in none of his works that have 
come down to us does Galen mention the Christians, or any other re- 
ligious sect. He was himself a Stoic. He belonged to no medical cult, 
neither Methodist, Empiricist, nor Dogmatist, but he did believe in the 
humoral theory, in the teachings of Hippocrates, and in himself. He is 
said to have written nearly five hundred treatises, half of them on 
medical subjects; but of them all only eighty-three have survived. Galen 
happened to have been unable to devote as much of his attention to surgery 
as to medicine; and, so powerful was his influence in succeeding centuries, 
this almost fortuitous bias in his emphasis resulted in relegating surgery 
to women and barbers for more than a thousand t ears. He taught that 
the four humors of the body were welded to its four vital spirits; and 
this theory controlled medical thought until the seventeenth century. 

These first centuries of the Christian era were, Gibbon says, the 
calm before a storm. The government of the Roman Empire was be- 
coming more and more unstable, for taxes were hard to collect, work in 
the cities was scarce, morality at its lowest point, and pestilences stalked 
unhindered. Galen himself fled from Rome during the plague, but he 
was hardly better oft" in the Campagna. Famine forced the common 
people to desperation while the rich gave themselves up to debauchery 
of all kinds. As the Christians increased in numbers the Emperors be- 
came more and more fearful .of them, hence persecutions of them multi- 
plied. But the more they were persecuted, the more they increased in 
numbers. \\ ith them the position of women was quite as good as that 
of the men, for St. Paul had said that all should be “brethren.” Phoebe, 
the deaconess, was his physician, “a succourer of many and of myself 
also.” Other women were practicing medicine; others preached, bap- 
tized converts, and even performed the duties of priests. St. Paul seems 
to have had two women relatives in Tarsus who were Christian doctors, 
St. Zenias and St. Philomela, the “lady with the lamp”; and in a letter 
written by Amianus to St. Paul we again find mention of the obstetrix 
or woman doctor in this statement, "Quoties de mulieris praegnatione 
dubitatur, quinque obstctrices, id est medicae, ventrern jubentur in- 
spiccre .” 1 

1 Chaurin, .Jeanne, " lit tide historique sur les professions necessities aux fem- 
mes," 1892 . 


Tertullian, even while he praised the faith of some of the early 
women martyrs, wrote that they must be even more humble, and “make 
no parade of their humility to be seen of men,” i. e., they must keep out 
of sight as much as possible. If a woman were a widow he would con- 
sent to her second marriage provided she would convert her new husband 
to Christianity ;• for, he adds, “It is because of what you, Eves, did for 
us, as unsealers of the forbidden tree, that the Son of God had to die.” 
Having thus satisfactorily put the blame where he thought it belonged, 
he both scolded and admonished those of his hearers who were medical 
women, for he had ideas on birth control, he knew that the population 
of Rome was steadily diminishing, that abortions were common, and that 
certain women made their living by causing miscarriages. He hurled 
invectives against the whole class of midwives and women doctors in such 
words as these: “If a child is extracted dead it verily was once alive. It 
is your tubes, your speculums, your dilators and hooks that are to blame 
for causing this destruction of the fruit of the womb.” Whether we 
agree with him now or not, we may at least thank Tertullian for giving 
us this description of the instruments used by the obstetricians of his time. 

Art, literature and medical knowledge all were slipping steadily 
backwards in this third century. The soldiers in some of the far away 
provinces set up governments of their own, took barbarian wives, and 
were ready to resist compulsion from home. Zenobia, in her oasis at 
Palmyra, defied the Roman legions for years for “she knew all science, 
history, and military art”; but she was finally conquered and taken to 
Rome in A. D. 273, to complete the triumph of Aurelian. Her daughter 
became his queen, and in the next generation Zenobia’s grand-daughter 
became queen of all Persia. She introduced Greek medicine into her 
adopted country, and protected the doctors and teachers in the new 
medical school founded at Edessa. Indirectly, this helped to save Greek 
medicine to the world, for the successor of this school at Edessa became 
the great school of the fifth century at Gondashapur, with its medical 
library, its famous teachers and its Arab writers. 

But wars and plagues and persecutions took a tremendous toll in 
lives and property during the third and fourth centuries. When Dio- 
cletian ascended the throne, in A. D. 284, he increased the persecution of 
the Christians at an almost unbelievable rate. Many of the martyrs 
were medical men and women, Saint Theodosia and Saint Nicerata, 
Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien of Asia Minor, Saint Thekla of Seleucia, 
and Saint Fides of Conques being among the number. If we are to 
believe tradition, however, after the death of these saints more miracles 



of healing were performed at their shrines, or by means of their bones, 
than were ever done by them in the flesh. We are told that Saint Fides 
was only a little girl of twelve when she was martyred : but there is 
evidence that Saint I hcodosia, the ancestor of Saint Procopius 1 of Gaza 
(A.D. 465-528) was a well educated physician, for her fame as a doctor 
and surgeon long outlived her death. 

Christian women were not the only women practicing medicine in 
these early years. We have already mentioned Aspasia and Cleopatra, 
pagans both. We know that the wife of Antoninus Pius, Faustina, 
founded public hospitals as well as hospitals for her slaves and guests; 
and was greatly interested in the study of medicine. Julia, the wife of 
Septimius Severus, was also active in promoting medical charity. It was 
for her that the life of Apollonius of Tyre was written. Lanciani tells 
us that, even before the time of Fabiola, who is often mentioned as the 
first woman to build or equip public hospitals, there were several such 
hospitals in Rome and throughout the Empire — hospitals for bakers, for 
pilgrims, for those afflicted with diseases of the eves, for apothecaries, 
and others, hospitals built like palaces, their windows facing the sun. 

Fabiola, who died in A. D. 399, was converted to Christianity at 
the age of twenty ; she was married a second time ; and became a widow 
again not long after. In order to expiate the crime of her second 
marriage and her early frivolity, she followed the teachings of Saint 
Jerome (A.D. 331-420), her friend and correspondent, and devoted 
herself to a life of medical charity not only in Rome but in the Holy 
Land. She was both a physician and a nurse, and Withington {op. cit., 
p. 10) says that she was also somewhat of a surgeon. 2 3 None of her con- 
temporaries ever referred to her as one of the “parabolani” (“nursing at- 
tendants). Her life in Rome during the persecutions of her friends 
must have been a harrowing one. Cardinal Wiseman, in 1854, after a 
long study of the early Christians in Rome, wrote the story of her life. 
Saint Jerome, writing to a friend about the work of Fabiola and other 
Christian women, said, “The Gentiles themselves never took account of 

the sex of their women but of the degree of their intelligence 

Volumes would be necessary to recount the lives and deeds of these 
women.” He had only praise for those who, like Fabiola, were un- 
tiring in their devotion to the sick and needy. He tells us that among 

1 Schacher, Polycarpus F. et Schmidius, Joannes Henricus, “De Feminis Ex 

arfe Medicn Claris,” 173!), p. 49. See also Nicephorus, Book VII, Chap. XV. 

3 Nutting, Adelaide, and Dock, Lavinia I/., “History of Nursing,” 1907, vol. I, 
pp. 125-134. 


Early Gravestone of a Woman Physician. 

The word “ Medica ” is clearly readable. This inscription is on a stone 
found near Tunis. Christian; probably about the ■ ird century, A. D. 

Tomb of a Woman Physician as “Mater Esculapius” 

4th Century. 

From Spa la to, on the Adriatic. Her figure surrounded by her patients, 
is at the left of Christ, the Good Shepherd. The cover is from a much 

earlier tomb. 


the wealthy patricians on the Aventine Hill there were “three quiet 
Christians,” Fabiola, Marcella, and Paula, who were reading Homer in 
Greek, studying Hebrew, singing hymns and praying, and constantly 
visiting their patients. Marcella ultimately became a hermit like Saint 
Anthony and Saint Jerome, Paula settled in Bethlehem, and Fabiola 
lived in Italy, and opened hospitals in Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, 
and in Rome. 

Saint Jerome gives us the names of fifteen ether women of his time 
who had studied medicine and were devoting themselves to the care of 
the sick, without fees. Lanciani 1 tells us that the palace of Marcella, 
on the Aventine, was one of the largest, and that its ruins were discovered 
by him in 1903, almost fifteen hundred years after its destruction by 
Alaric. He says also that Fabiola was converted by Marcella, and that 
hers was the first hospital to be opened and “the best of its kind.” 
“Prima Fabiola nosoxotneion instituit in quo aegrotantes collegeret de 
plateis et consumpta languoribus atque inedia miserorum membra foveret.” 
A later writer says of her, “Few physicians had so much moral or intel- 
lectual ability as she, so serious without pedantry, simple but not vulgar, 
quiet but deeply thoughtful.” Saint Jerome says that the patients whom 
she gathered from the gutters were dying in agony, covered with sores, 
their eyes blinded, limbs mutilated, their whole being reeking with dis- 
gusting smells. She herself died in A. D. 399, mourned by thousands. 2 

Paula, the friend and colleague of Fabiola, was born in A. D. 347, a 
“descendant of Agamemnon.” She was an expert scholar of Hebrew, 
and, on becoming a widow, she and her daughter settled in Bethlehem, 
where they founded a hospital and monastery for the Jews, and served 
them untiringly. Lecky and Gibbon both tell us interesting facts about 
these women. Jerome, writing to their pagan friends in Rome, asks them 
how they can wear silks, and permit themselves to be carried about by 
eunuchs, when Paula is wearing sackcloth, trimming lamps, bathing the 
sick, and giving medical treatments. When Paula died, in A.D. 404, 
he said that those whom Paula had bathed in the blood of the Lamb 
needed no other baths. 

Among the great hospitals of the fourth century we should mention 
that of Saint Basil of Cappadocia (born A. D. 329), and his sister Ma- 
crina, at Caesarea. They had studied medicine in Athens, where they 

1 Lanciani, Rodolfo, “The Destruction of Ancient Rome,” 100.3, p. 58. 

2 Cardinal Wiseman’s book, “Fabiola or the Church of the Catacombs,” 1854, 
has been translated into nearly every language. It was a tremendous success 
for it gives the student an archeologist's point of view of the early Christians. 



learned “all Hippocratic lore.” Their hospital, built in A. D. 370, 
was so large that it was “like a walled city or the pyramids in size.” 
There were separate pavilions for different kinds of diseases, and also 
houses for physicians and nurses. In this and two other hospitals erected 
by St. Basil and his sister, there were medical schools where bedside 
instruction was given students with note-books in their hands. The story 
of these hospitals, as told in the pages of Nutting and Dock (vol. i, pp. 
123-126) reads like a description of one of our modern hospitals. There 
was the same discipline, the same pleasant relations between doctors and 
nurses, the white garments, dainty food, clean patients, airy rooms, sani- 
tary conveniences, and the universal oversight of every detail by Macrina, 
of whom St. Chrysostom wrote, “Macrina was a great organizer, an 
independent thinker, and as well educated as Basil himself.” A later 
writer adds, “She was next to the Virgin Mary in sanctity.” 

Saint Chrysostom of Antioch, archbishop of Constantinople (A. D. 
398 ' 4 0 7 ) 1 mentions the names of many “manly women ’ doing medical 
work during his lifetime. Among them was Olympia, of whom he says 
admiringly, “She was a good organizer, a widow and a deaconess at the 
age of twenty, and head of a community of women who were all healing 
the sick and living the life of charity.” We gather that it was she who 
had cured him of stomach trouble. Olympia had such great wealth 
that the Emperor Theodosius wished to marry her, but she refused his 
suit and devoted her life to her work. She had forty women under her; 
they were very ascetic, thought it holy to go unwashed, to wear ragged 
clothes, and to go about hungry and sick. Olympia seems to have been 
older than Macrina, but fully as learned and able. The mother of St. 
Chrysostom, Arcthusa, was another “manly woman” of Antioch and 
Alexandria, very learned. Chrysostom and Arethusa together had the 
oversight of three hundred and forty-seven xenodochia, or nosokornia, or 
hospitals connected with churches in Constantinople. They also had 
charge of almost inaccessible monasteries on the crags of Greece and 

It is interesting to find writers of the fourth century so appreciative 
of the work of the medical women of their day. We have seen how 
Saint Jerome valued the work of Fabiola. He said, “If I had a hundred 
tongues and a clarion voice I could not enumerate the number of patients 
for whom she provided solace and care.” Saint Chrysostom praised Ma- 
crina and Olympia and the other women of his period with the same 
enthusiasm. 1 

1 See “Cambridge Mediaeval History,” Vol. I., Chap. XX. Thoughts and ideas- 
of the Period, p. 596, Art. by Rev. H. F. Stewart. 


Theodorus Priscianus, having cited famous medical women of earlier 
centuries, praised three women doctors of the fourth century — whom he 
knew personally, whose treatment he used, and to whom he was proud 
to dedicate his own book. These women were Leoparda, Salvina, and 
Victoria. Probably all practiced medicine at the court of Gratian (A. D. 
359'383), for Priscian was Gratian ’s physician. His book, being written 
for women doctors, contained many quotations from Soranus and Cleo- 
patra and Aspasia. Part of it was in rhyme, to be the more easily 
memorable. He urges Victoria not to give up the practice of medicine 
on any account, but to study the causes of sterility and write her case 
records, a very good bit of advice. He calls Salvina, to whom he dedi- 
cates Part III of his book “because of her wisdom,” 1 his “very gentle 
colleague” ; and he carefully describes for her the more important details 
of the practice of gynecology. He says that Leoparda was a noted 
gynecologist ; but her remedies to us are no more scientific than those of 

Lactantius, who was another teacher of the fourth century, was 
still teaching that semen is manufactured in the head, and that the uterus 
is bifid, male children coming from the right side, females from the left. 
A Persian manuscript, as we have seen, described the uterus as having 
seven chambers, in each of which there might be a baby. This latter 
belief still continued prevalent in some places in the Orient, as is told 
in the story of Sydrac and Boctus, which continued to be popular for 

Gratian abolished the Vestal Virgins, suppressed the worship of the 
old gods, and expelled the quacks and impostors who offered relics of 
Christian saints as cures for disease. Nevertheless the faith of the 
Christians was so fixed upon such relics that they were glad to buy any 
sort of bone or bit of hair that was labelled with the name of a saint. 
Both Gratian and his forerunner, Constantine, who ruled A. D. 306-337, 
were protectors of all the really capable physicians; they proclaimed them 
and the clergy tax-free, and gave them liberty to teach what and where 
they chose. It was Constantine who moved away from Rome to the 
edge of the Sea of Marmora where he founded the city of Constantinople. 
He invited scholars from all over the world to make his city their home,, 
and promised them freedom from all disturbances. This move resulted 
finally in the separation of the Eastern church from the Western, and 

1 Theodori Priseiani Archiatri "Ad Salvinam Praefatio, in librum tertium, qui 
inscribitur Gynaecia.” Spach, loo. eit., p. 28. 



stirred up all sorts of fanaticisms and rivalries among the Christians. 
A Roman mob, under Bishop Thcophilus, burned the great library at 
Alexandria, in A. D. 390-391, because it was mainly a Greek library. 
(It had been burned once under Julius Caesar, and was to be burned 
again under the Mohammedans in 640 A. D.) The rivalry between 
the Greeks and Romans in religious affairs resulted, strangely enough, in 
banishing the Latin works of Galen, for example, and probably accounts 
in part for the loss of many books written by Galen’s followers. De- 
spite all their religious zeal and piety, superstition throve among the 

During this same fourth century, Saint Augustine (A. D. 354-430), 
and his mother, Saint Monica, were studying medicine together at their 
home at Tagaste on the coast of nothern Africa, the son evolving doctri- 
nal theology, while the mother went about among the poor and sick, 
using her medicines where they were needed, caring for women in labor, 
and giving comfort to the dying. Between times mother and son carried 
on long arguments as to the viability of a fetus, and the location of its 
soul. They finally decided that a child was viable from the second 
month of its intra-uterine life, and that it was a legal being from the 
fourth month, when its sex became differentiated. This decision settled 
this particular controversy for the Church for centuries. 

If this century was a time of struggles, of wars and pestilences, it 
was also a century of changing populations. It brought about a decided 
mixture of races, and with that in many cases — rather contradictorily — 
an antipathy to new customs and ideas. At the time of Galen’s birth, 
Rome had nearly a million inhabitants. At the end of Diocletian’s reign, 
in A. D. 305, it had scarcely 500,000; and these were reduced to a paltry 
15,000 after Totila’s conquest in the sixth century. 1 It was in A. D. 
303 that Diocletian ordered his general persecution of all Christians, 
after which lie retired with satisfaction to his new palace and flower- 
gardens in Dalmatia, where he died in his bed almost under the shadow 
of the temple of Aesculapius. 

It was at the end of this century that Oribasius was sent all over 
the world to collect books, and especially to find copies of Galen and 
other medical writers. His own compilation, if finished, would have 
been enormous, but his work was uncompleted, and all but a fraction of 
what he did gather has since been lost. Oribasius left nothing un- 

1 See Baedeker’s “Central Italy,” Introduction. Also Lanciani, op. cit., p. 156. 
’ E. Gurlt, “Qescliichte der Chirurgie,” 1898, vol. I, pp. 426, 527, 532. 


touched, 2 including such topics as the Delphic oracle, the uselessness of 
surgery for cancer of the breast, and the advocating of a diet of figs, and 
the use of fig poultices in treating such diseases. He advised watchful 
waiting as a cure for stone in the bladder. It is evident that he disliked 
surgery. His book on women’s diseases, cosmetics, and obstetrics was, 
he says, written “for the women doctors.” In the remedies recommended 
by Oribasius are found once more the disgusting preparations of the 
sexual organs of animals, saliva, skin, hair, nails, bones and urine, the 
faeces of hedgehogs and dragons, along with clams, sponges, ambergris 
from the bile of whales, the blood of a fledgling swallow for cough, pearls 
dissolved in vinegar and sea water for skin diseases, sulphur mixed with 
human saliva for impetigo, theriac for elephantiasis, and mercury mixed 
with clam juice for gonorrhea. 1 

The end of the fourth century was a time of depression and misery. 
Ammianus Marcellinus (A. D. 330-395) wrote that all people were 
under the reign of the devil, and that many an anti-Christ was abroad 
under the guise of queer beasts and birds. The incredible stories of 
Apollonius of Tyana were fervently believed by multitudes. And yet 
not all people were gullible or bored or hopeless. We find the poet 
Ausonius (A. D. 310-394) a Gallo-Roman who became tutor to Gra- 
tian, writing idyllic poems and essays, describing the scenes of his child- 
hood, and incidentally recording the work of his aunt Aemilia, a 
woman doctor living near the Moselle, who had helped him get an 
education. 2 

He says of his aunt that she was a very skilful and honest woman 
doctor, and that she had studied medicine in older to assist her brother, 
who was a doctor. He also notes that she wrote books on gynecolo- 
gy and obstetrics, and was much beloved by her patients. Ausonius was 
a friend of Saint Augustine who was living at M ilan and Rome while 
Ausonius was at the court ; and, although the two men were very different 
psychologically, they both evidently admired intellectual women. Au- 
sonius was as proud of his aunt Aemilia as Saint Augustine of his mother; 
and, while the latter was composing his famous “City of God,” the 
former was jotting down the homely memories of his childhood in words 
like the following: “My aunt, Aemilia Hilaria Martertera, was a virgo 

1 In the museums in Dalmatia today are found many faience jars belonging 
to old apothecary’s shops and labelled with the names of the above substances. 

a Decimus Magnus Ausonius, “Opuscula,” Part III, “Domestica,” p. 33, edited 
by Rudolfus Peiper, Leipzig, 1886; transl. by H. A. Evelyn White, London, 1919. 



devota; and, though in kinship’s degree an aunt, she was to me a mother, 
bright and happy like a boy, and busied in the art of healing like a man.” 1 
It is interesting to read his accounts of the daily life of the family 
and their Gallo-Roman friends, their food, their wedding festivities, and 
their funerals. “Aunt Aemilia” died at the age of 63 years. 


^ UDDENLY Alaric with his hordes of Goths descended upon Italy, 
and Rome was sacked in A. D. 410. Thus, as the fourth century 
merged into the fifth, the condition of the Roman Empire grew worse. 
The drains of the city of Rome were clogged, malaria was endemic, the 
great granary of Rome in North Africa was not producing its quota of 
food, nor was wheat coming any more from Britain or Spain or Gaul. 
The Piets, Scots and Saxons raided Britain, the Visigoths invaded the 
regions south of the Danube, the Vandals became masters in Spain, and 
the Franks made inroads in Gaul. Freebooters and pirates roamed the 
seas. When the legions were hastily recalled to Rome in 407. they were 
neither strong enough nor sufficiently patriotic to hold off Alaric, who 
took the Eternal City in 410, releasing it only upon the payment of a 
tremendous ransom — including three thousand pounds of pepper. 2 
Alaric’s hordes spared the Christian population, but damaged their pro- 
perty, especially works of art, and the books which the barbarians could 
not read. 3 Thus the Roman Empire from a homogeneous empire of 
sixty-four provinces became a heterogeneous mass of uncultured peoples. 

In the year 420 the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Theodosius, a well 
educated woman and a zealous Christian, founded a new hospital in 
Jerusalem, where she personally tended the sick. She also aided in the 
re-establishment of two medical schools, one in Syria, and the other in 

1 “Aemilia Hilarin Mntertern, Virgo Devota, 

Tuque graclu generis mntertern, sed vice matris 
Adfectu nati commemoranda pio, 

Aemilia, in cunis Ililnri cognomen adepta, 

Quod laeta et pueri eomis ad effigiem, 

Reddebns veruin non dissimulanter ephebum, 

More virum medicis artibus experiens, 

Foe.minei sexns odium tibi semper et inde 
Crevit devotae virginitatis amor. 

Quae tibi septenos novies est eulta per annos 
Quique aevi finis, ipse pudicitiae, 

Haer, quis uti mater monitis et amorc fovebas 
Supremis reddo filius exequiis.” 

3 I/e Wall, C. II., “The Romance of Spices,” Am. Journ. Pharmacy, 1923. 

3 Holmes, W. G., ‘‘The Age of Justinian and Theodora,” 1912, vol. I. 



Edessa, in Mesopotamia, east of Van, where the Nestorian Christians 
had been teaching. As the Nestorians were inclined to the Unitarian 
doctrine, the other Christians united to drive them from Edessa. They 
were allowed, finally, to settle in Persia, where the queen, a grand- 
daughter of Zenobia, welcomed them. She sent to Greece for physicians, 
and to other parts of the world for books and scribes, and established 
at Gondeshapur, or Gonde-Chapur — the place is spelled in many ways — 
a new medical school where men and women studied together, translated 
medical books into many languages, and treated the sick. 

The medicines recommended at this school and the prescriptions 
were somewhat like those of India; the latter were written on palm 
leaves neatly fastened together. The so-called Bower Manuscript, 
dating from the fourth century, may have been in use at Gondeshapur. 
It purports to be a dialogue between Buddha and those who are in- 
quiring as to certain remedies, particularly one called chebulic myrobalam, 
a universal blood purifier . 1 2 It was supposed to cure everything but lock- 
jaw, stricture of the throat, and consumption, but was not to be 
given in pregnancy. As a digestive it was prescribed with ginger, 
molasses, and rock salt. It also promoted intelligence and sensibility, 
and regulated the flow of bile; and, taken with castor oil, it cured consti- 
pation. The one rule for its use to be absolutely obeyed was this: “Five 
pellets that have lain for seven days in the urine of a buffalo must be 
eaten for seven consecutive days with milk and a diet of rice” ; this 
prescription, if strictly adhered to for three times seven days, was said 
to cure dropsy, all abdominal swellings, and all liver trouble. The 
myrobalam had originally grown from the tears shed by a god, hence 
its power. 

But, unfortunately for the progress of medicine in this century, 
there were still no original investigations; and obviously such remedies 
as the one just cited could not — even with faith — cure any disease, even 
though the patient survived the doses. For this reason Christians began 
to rely mainly upon holy relics, to hang in the churches wax models of 
their diseased organs, and to have faith in dreams interpreted by saintly 
men and women." Thus we hear of a certain Thecdoric of Alexandria 3 
who had been poisoned. He was told in a dream to swallow a live asp. 
In trying to do so he vomited so abundantly that he got rid of all the 

1 “Archeological Survey of India,” 1912, vol. XXII, ed. by A. F. R. Hoernle. 

2 E. T. Withington, of. cit., p. 123. 

3 C. G. Crump and E. F. Jacobs, “Legacy of the Middle Ages,” 1926, pp. 28-30. 



poison! A lirabile dictu! No wonder that we hear no names of physi- 
c i ; i ns connected with medication of this sort. If there were medical men 
and women doing sincere medical work— and there probably were a 
* eu ' — they were busy, too busy to write about it. 

The chief business of this dark century, 1 apart from actual war, was 
to decide certain theological questions, such as the divinity of Mary, the 
amount of power to be wielded by the clergy, and the part to be played 
In women in church services. Evidently these questions w’erc settled to 
the satisfaction of the Church, for Mary was considered divine, the 
Church obtained more and more temporal power, and women were 
more and more forced into the background. Meanwhile Attila (who 
died in 455) and his half million wild Huns overran Europe as far as 
the Rhine, Clovis, or Chlodvig, invaded France; and from the north 
came Theodoric, the great Diedrich of song and story, crushing every- 
thing in his path and setting up a kingdom in Ravenna in opposition to 
the rule of Justinian in Constantinople. Southern Italy, during part of 
this perilous fifth century, was ruled by Pope Gregory the First, who 
paid his army for twenty-seven years with the revenues of the Church. 
Rut there was no peace anywhere. Before 475 there had been ten nomi- 
nal Roman emperors; but barbarian chiefs ruled in Spain, Gaul, and 
Africa, and Teutonic invaders were rapidly becoming masters of Eng- 

At such a period,’ says Villari, 2 “slaughter, pillage, and incendiar- 
ism left few original documents to illustrate the history of the Roman 
Republic, or, let us add, of medical men or women, for notwithstanding 
theological quibbles and political quarrels and actual wars, medical work 
has to go on. 

We have already remarked how errors crept into the old manu- 
scripts and were perpetuated. But it is difficult for us to imagine a 
world in which all the books used by men or women are manuscript 
copies of previous manuscript copies. Remember that handwriting, then 
as now, varied greatly and was often difficult to decipher. We have 
only to look at the still extant manuscripts to feel special sympathy for 
all who had to read them. It is small winder that names of authors 
meant little, and were often misspelled, or wrongly translated from 

i . Ca ' ls this , tlle ^ginning of the dark period of the world of science, 

it lasted a thousand rears. 

3 Enc. Brit. Art. “Rome,” by Villari. 



Greek to Latin, or even omitted entirely as unessential. Singer 1 tells 
us that even in the tenth century there were only fourteen medical au- 
thors whose works were used by the teachers at the schools. These were 
our old friends Hippocrates and Galen, Dioscorides and Oribasius, Sora- 
nus and Musa, Priscian and Apuleius (a sixth century writer on plants), 
Boethius’ Aristotle, Moschion, the gynecologist of the sixth century, 
Cleopatra of the second, written like a quiz compend, Firmicus. who 
wrote at Constantinople on astrology and its influence on birth, and 
Paul of Aegina and Aetius of Amida, of whom we shall soon learn more. 

We are told that during the reign of Theodoric the Goth, at 
Ravenna, an elaborate set of rules had been promulgated, apparently by 
some sort of a medical society, to govern the social behavior of a doctor. 
H is clothing was to be dignified and unostentatious, his prognosis am- 
biguous; he was to look important and learned, and be circumspect in 
demanding a fee. But then, as now, a woman in labor is less concerned 
with a physician’s dignity than with his, or her, ability to relieve her. 
The relics of a saint, the sight of an ascetic like Simeon Stylites on his 
pillar, night and day for thirty years, or of human beings trying to live 
on grass like an ox, or stretching themselves on spikes to be fed by 
ravens, might impress a patient with imaginary complaints; but to care 
for a woman in labor, a child with the colic, a man with a broken arm, 
a leper, the practical work of well trained physicians was necessary. 

It seems hopeless to look now for the names of the men and women 
who must have given practical help to the lame, the halt, and the blind, 
of those days. And yet, as in the centuries just before Christ and after, 
we have at least the evidence of tombstones; and, after all, that is evi- 
dence enough. We know from them that it was no uncommon thing for 
women doctors — and, of course, it is that great anonymous body of 
women doctors through this dark period in which we are most inter- 
ested — to be buried with honor by their parents, children, husbands, 
patients, or slaves. Here, for example, are a few examples of grave- 
stones from Christian burials of perhaps the fifth and sixth centuries 
after Christ, signed with the cross or fish, or " In pace”: 

To my sainted goddess Primilla, a medical woman, daughter of 
Lucius Vibius Meliton ; she lived forty-four years, of which thirty were 
without trouble with Lucius Cocceius Aphorus, who erected this monu- 
ment to the best and purest of wives, and to himself.” This marble 
tablet is in the Berlin museum. 

1 Singer, Charles, “Origin of the Medical School of Salerno.” Volume pre- 
sented to Sudhoff, op. cit. 



Another important tablet found in Capua is to a "Magistra in 
Medicina.” At Cori is another to a "Magistra' ; and still another in 
Cervaria reads "Sp. F. Fortunata, Magistra, Matri. Matutae, D. D., 
Paul. Tontia, M. F. Consua. Piatrices ." 1 2 In Padua there is a stone to 
a .Magistra Proba, Petrusia ." 1 A stone found in Lyons, France, reads: 
Metillia Donata, Medica. De Sua Pecunia Dedit," meaning that Me- 
tillia, “a medical woman,” paid for her own stone. There is also a 
stone to Julia, wife of Quintus Julius, a Sabine woman doctor; or, as 
another translator reads the words, to Sabina, a woman doctor, the freed 
slave of Julia Quinta. The wording is ambiguous. Let it be remarked 
here that it is often difficult to decipher these inscriptions. Many letters 
were omitted for the sake of economy; stones have decayed; and notes 
are lacking to explain matters that were obvious fifteen hundred years 

I here is, however, a clear inscription to “The daughter of Nicenus, 
a freed woman belonging to the woman doctor Terentia, to whom the 
tablet was erected by her grandchildren.” 3 

From Spain, in the old Roman city of Merida near the Portuguese 
border, comes this inscription: “Julia Saturnia, aged 45, an incomparable 
wife (muliere sanctissirne) and the best doctor ( rnedicae optimae) erected 
by her husband, Cassius Philippus, Maritas ob mentis . 4 Merida was a 
large and flourishing city before the seventh century and the arrival of 
the Saracens. It still has the remains of a fine theatre, a magnificent 
temple to Mars, a very early Byzantine church to a martyred saint, 
Eulalia, a long Roman bridge and other striking remains of its former 
splendor. \\ e may know of only one woman doctor in Merida, but, 
by every law of probability, if we have the tombstone of one, there were 
scores of others whose gravestones have not yet been discovered, or who 
never had stones erected to them at all. Merida is today a poverty- 
stricken city of scarcely more than ten thousand inhabitants, difficult for 
the hurried tourist to visit, and therefore not a show place; but because 
of its position and history it may reveal splendid treasures to future 

There are many such gravestones along the Appian Way, near 
Rome. One reads, “Empiria, aged 49 years, wife of Vettianos of Cios, 

1 Gruter, p. LX. 

2 Gruter, p. LXXXIX. 

3 Henzen and Ttossi, no. 9616. 

4 Hiibner, p. 62, no. 497. 



erected by her husband because of her medical skill.” And another, 
now in the Vatican, reads, “Valeria Berecunda, aged 34 years, 28 days, 
latromala, of Rome, erected by her husband and daughter, for she was 
the best doctor in her quarter of Rome.” 

A fine inscription was found in Tarragona, near the east coast of 
Spain, south of Barcelona, and not far from the great Cyclopean wall; 
it is in the shape of a Christian cross, but its inscription is pagan in style: 
“D . M. Juliae. Quintianae Clinico. Fil. Karissim Mater Posuit et si 
bi,” or, “Julia of the Quintius family, a clinician, most dear daughter, 
Mother placed this stone to her.” There were many such reminders of 
“incomparable daughters,” “best of mothers,” or “wives.” (The term 
“ clinicus by the way, is not as common as “medica.”) 

In another of the Roman colonies, old Carthage on the north coast 
of Africa, scores of late Christian burials have been found among the 
relics of the old Phoenicians of the time of Queen Dido and her pagan 
gods. There, close by the ruined temples of Tanit and Baal, with their 
votive offerings of miniature legs and babies and breasts, are found also 
the remains of martyred saints with Christian crosses. Among the grave- 
stones are several to men and women doctors, to nurses, maias and ob- 
stetrices. One of these stones, now in the museum of Carthage (col- 
lected by Pere Delattre), is a small but very beautifully inscribed tablet 
to a woman doctor, Asyllia. The slab is of dark green stone, about 
30 x 25 cm., and reads, “Here lies Asyllia Polia, daughter of Asyllus, 
woman doctor; she lived sixty-five years. Fuscius, her freedman, made 
(this tomb) at his own expense.” 

AS’f LLIA L F POLIA Asyllia L(ucii) f(ilia) Polia 
MEDICA H. S. E. ^ Medica h(ic) s(ita) e(st) 

VIXS A. LXV Vixs(it) a(nnis) LXV 

FUSCIUS L. D. S. F. Fuscius l(ibertus) d(e) s(uis) f (ecit) 

We note, in the transcript of the inscription on the left, the two crosses 
inserted in the lines, and the clearly written word “MEDICA,” when 
the other words, as the transliterated form of the inscription above on 
the right shows, are abbreviated. The translation was made by Pro- 
fessor Audollent, dean of the Faculty at the University of Clermont- 
Ferrand; and was published in the Medical Revue by Dr. Marie Der- 
scheid-Delcourt, of Brussels, in 1925, together with a photograph of the 
stone. The above transliteration shows clearly the methods of abbrevi- 
ation used on these stones. Many other stones have been found at Car- 
thage, and re-erected outside the museum there, one to a nameless 
medicus. Most of them bear the pious “in pace’ 1 a phrase that might 
well appeal to any doctor after a lifetime of practice! 



M hat civilization would have been like in those troublesome cen- 
turies without the Christians it is difficult to imagine. Sarton says that 
the Christian religion was the one force which kept barbarous Europe 
from a far worse fate than medieval darkness. The fifth century at 
least kept medicine alive, and saved the Latin language, although not in 
its pristine form. Before the end of the century great numbers of men 
and women fled to monasteries to find rest and peace. 1 These insti- 
tutions were springing up in the wake of Saint Patrick in Ireland, the 
hermit saints in Egypt, and Saint Benedict in Italy. Not far from 
Alexandria, and on the Nile near Memphis, were scores of anchorites in 
the desert, and twenty thousand nuns were mortifying their flesh while 
they copied books, sang psalms, and prepared for the next world. 


A 1 the end of the fifth century, Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth, 

454-526, was able by the help of the Pope to stem the tide of decay, 
and keep peace for ten years. At his court at Ravenna, on the eastern 
coast of Italy, he employed Boethius (475-524), and Cassiodorus 2 (480- 
575), to foster education and culture. Boethius was writing what 
proved to be his final work on diet and hygiene, warning his readers 
against the use of pickled meats, spoiled fish, poisonous mushrooms, and 
bad cheese, and advocating a diet of bacon in intestinal parasitical dis- 
eases, and partridge flesh for dysentery. 3 But suddenly Boethius was 
executed (524) on the charge of treason; the army of Justinian fought 
and conquered the Ostrogoths; and pandemonium was again let loose. 
Fortunately Saints Benedict and Cassiodorus were safe in their monas- 
teries copying manuscripts in peace; and Theodoric was on the way to 
immortality as Diedrich von Bern, the hero of song and story. 

While pestilences of all kinds raged in this century, charlatanism 
was also flourishing as never before. Gregory of Tours (540-594), in- 
sists that the bones of the saints worked marvellous cures; and we know 
at least that holy relics multiplied to meet the demand for them. Dust 
from tombstones, wax from church tapers, and even incubation sleep 
took the place of doctors and drugs, and were evidence of a “medical 
condition that continued in Europe for two hundred years, or until the 

1 Robinson, Charles Henry, “The Conversion of Europe,” 1917. 

2 To Cassiodorus the basis of education was languages and mathematics. He 
disregarded medicine altogether. 

2 Max Neuburger, “History of Medicine,” 1910, vol. II. 



time of Charlemagne (742-814) and Alcuin, the Anglo-Saxon monk 

In England and Ireland, however, medical conditions were not quite 
so bad as on the Continent. The disciples of Saint Patrick (who died 
in 469), and the followers of Saint Augustine of Hippo (who had died 
thirty years earlier) were traveling back and forth between Rome and 
their western schools and churches; and they kept religion and education 
from stagnation. Bede (674-735) tells us in his history that during 
those years of the fifth century medical studies were not neglected in 
England. Monks and priests and leeches practiced freely such medicine 
as they knew. Their anatomy was mainly from Aristotle, their medi- 
cines were scarcely better, being those of Dioscorides; but Aristotle and 
Dioscorides were better than hocus-pocus. Shortly after the death of 
Saint Patrick, Saint Bridget (453-525) was at work practicing medi- 
cine and midwifery in Ireland. She was said to be the daughter of a 
“druidess,” to have been converted to Christianity, and to be able to per- 
form miracles of healing. Probably she practiced according to the 
methods of her age, went about among the poor and the sick at Kildare, 
and was at least able to convince the rulers that outright quacks should 
be banished from the country. In the famous Book of Glendalough we 
find rules governing the fees for physicians, and other progressive legis- 
lation, as well as laws against impostors. Glendalough, south of Dub- 
lin, is one of the most beautiful valleys in Ireland. An important hermi- 
tage was built there. In later centuries the name of Bridget came to 
be revered, and many another woman of her name followed her example 
by opening hospitals and practicing medicine, as we shall see in later 

In Spain, among the Visigoths, from the fifth to the eighth cen- 
turies, more laws were enacted against doctors than for their benefit. 
The worst of punishments were meted out to abortionists, 1 the tortures 
to which they were put being brutal almost beyond belief. Unskilful 
bleeding was punished with a heavy fine, and witnesses were called upon 
to testify to every operation. In Merida, where, as we have seen, there 
has been found a tombstone to a woman doctor, the bishop of Spain, 
Isodorus Hispalensis (570-636) built an immense hospital, containing 
580 beds, on the bank of the Tagus, and staffed it with men and women 
doctors and teachers from the school of the Nestorians at Gondashapur, 


Neuburger, vol. II pp. 12-14. 



in Persia. And the Bishop himself compiled a great encyclopedia from 
eighty authors, as a textbook for the students. 1 

During this same period, under Justinian and Theodora, seventy 
thousand people of Asia Minor were forcibly baptized, and, to root out 
heresy more effectively, the medical school at Athens was closed in 529. 
Women doctors who were slaves still brought the highest prices in the 
market. Theodora, while empress, founded hospitals for the sick 
throughout the Empire after the plan of the hospitals of Fabiola, and 
erected orphan asylums like those of Tiberius. To root out prostitution 
she opened homes where lewd women were kept under supervision. The 
household water for Constantinople was collected and stored in vast 
pillared cisterns under the city to keep it from pollution, and these 
cisterns are among the sights of Stamboul today. Aetius of Amida 
(527-565) was writing his famous "Tetrabiblion,” in which, as we have 
already seen, he quoted extensively from Aspasia and Cleopatra. Those 
parts of his book dealing with gynecology and obstetrics were the main 
texts used bv women doctors up to the time of Trotula of Salerno in 
the eleventh century. 2 

Among the women doctors quoted by Aetius is one named Andro- 
mache, an Egyptian of his own time. She used all sorts of remedies to 
cure pain and suffering, among which Aetius quotes one for toothache 
containing pepper, pyrethrum, galbanum, etc. 3 For bruises, luxations, 
and ulcers, she prescribed a black plaster of ground bone, gluten, wax, 
bitumen, pitch, oil, rosin, and opopanax (ginseng?). She evidently had 
read Pliny’s pharmacopoeia, for Aetius quotes remedies as his from her 
book, with the remark that Pliny was a clear fountain from whose 
waters all writers drew. Most of Andromache’s treatment was, how- 
ever, like that of Aetius, 4 5 taken from Egvpt rather than from India, ex- 
cept that she used the actual cautery instead of the knife in surgery, advo- 
cated the magic words of Samonicus, believed in the possession of devils, 
the laying on of hands, and in cures by the royal touch. ' J 

For gynecological treatments and obstetrics Aetius quotes page after 
page from Aspasia and Cleopatra, as has already been said. He seems 

1 It has been said that Paulas, Bishop of Merida, performed Caesarian section 

on a live mother, in this century, and saved both her and the baby. 

3 The “Tetrabiblion’’ of Aetius was printed by order of Pope Clement VII, in 
1534, in double columns; in this edition the work fills two thousand pages. 

3 See edition of 1542, p. 423. 

4 Xeuburger, vol. I, p. 333. 

5 Cumston, Charles Green, “Introduction to the History of Medicine,” 1926_ 

p. 212. 

The Empress Theodora Between Saints Benedict and 


From a 6th century mosaic in the church of Theodoric, in Ravenna. 



to have gone further than they in describing dystocia of the pelvis as an 
impediment in labor; but, like them, he believes in podalic version, in 
placing dry sponges in the vagina to provoke the expulsion of a dead 
fetus, and in reaching with the left hand into the uterus to remove an 
adherent placenta. In his book on surgery he advocates the removal 
of a cancerous breast, and stone in the bladder, in amputation of the 
clitoris in girls, and in the circumcision of little boys. He described 
hydatid mole, and praised Cleopatra for dropping oil into the eyes of 
new babies; but, strangely enough, he also believed in taking as tender 
care of lucky stones as of children, and in using them according to 
definite rules. 

From such items as these we may form some conception of the un- 
assuming life of the women doctors of the sixth century. Is it entirely 
impossible to imagine them, quietly disregarding the turmoil of wars and 
plagues, going about their daily work, hurrjdng along the narrow streets 
with their medical kits and torchlights on a stormy night to care for a 
woman in labor, or stooping at a fireplace to make a cup of hot calamint 
tea for a crying child, or filling a pig’s bladder with hot water to warm 
the feet of a fainting pilgrim, or producing an opium pill and giving a 
cupping treatment for a headache? And yet, in 581, the Fathers of the 
Church were asking in all seriousness wdiether or not women were reason- 
ing animals or mere brutes without a soul. And having with much 
logic decided in the negative, the Church decreed that women could no 
longer be given position in it. A century later it went further : hence- 
forth women were not to be allowed to speak; “non enirn eis loqui per- 
missum est, sed subjici sicut dixit lex .” 1 

Yet in this same century Saint Benedict (480-544) and his sister 
Scholastica were going all over Italy while a plague raged, helping the 
sick and teaching others how to be of use to suffering mortals. After 
the epidemic subsided, Benedict gathered together a few kindred spirits, 
and settled down at Subiaco, in the Sabine hills not very far from Rome, 
to copy manuscripts for the glory of God ; while Scholastica established 
hospitals and trained nurses to do the work she herself was doing, to 
bathe the sick, give them medicine and food, and pray with the dying. 
Whether she kept any records or wrote a single book is not known. 

In 528 Benedict moved his “Order” to Monte Cassino, forty-five 
miles from Naples, fifteen hundred feet above the sea, where his monks 
continued their copying. But as time went on they grew more careless, 

1 Council of Nantes, Canon III, A. D. 660. 



and the texts they produced were less legible than the texts produced by 
their predecessors. Still later brigands and plunderers sacked and burned 
their cells, and in the tenth century the “brethren” moved down to Sa- 
lerno, on the coast, where possibly they helped to found the great co- 
educational medical school there, that was to lead the world in pro- 
ductiveness, originality, and fame. When Boccaccio visited the monas- 
tery at Monte Cassino in 1350, he could find no remains either of their 
manuscripts or of the School. 1 Of the medical books that these monks 
had copied, however, we have a partial list of the fourteen which, accord- 
ing to Charles Singer, are the ones so often copied both in the earlier 
and later centuries. Six hundred manuscripts from this Monte Cassino 
copying workshop have been found, however, scattered among the libraries 
of Europe, many of them difficult to read, although their “broken Lom- 
bardic letters” are in places sometimes quite legible. 2 The nuns, under 
Saint Scholastica, also copied manuscripts “with all their might” ; but 
whether they copied the Bible, “in order to stab the devil,” or copied 
medical books we can not tell. 

There was, as has been mentioned, a terrible epidemic of plague 
during this century. Procopius tells us how, in the year 540, it spread 
all over the known world. From 5,000 to 10,000 persons died every 
day in Constantinople alone. Its symptoms were those of the modern 
bubonic plague. Every pregnant woman died, for “there was no cure 
for the disease. ’ Procopius added that many physicians fled from the 
cities, but that the women remained to do what they could to help 
the sufferers and pray with the dying. Elis own mother was said to be 
one of these devoted women doctors, whose only reward was to be found 
in the heavenly kingdom. 

Fortunately, after this epidemic, the remnants of the populations of 
Europe had peace for many years. In southern Italy Greeks and Romans 
and Jews lived together harmoniously. Gregory the Great (540-604), 
sent missionaries in S97 to Saxon England with the second Saint 
Augustine. B en years earlier missionaries had been sent to Spain, which 
had become virtually Christianized. With France also quiet, Gregory 
of Tours could write his history; and, with Italy peaceful, Alexander of 

1 Daremberg, Ch. V., “Oesrhichte der Medizin,” 1861. Boccaccio said that 
mans scraps of manuscripts, or loose pages, had been used by the monks for 
charms and amulets. 

* Thorndike reminds us that nothing of any value in medicine was written 
during the thousand years between I.eo the Great, who died in 461, and Leo 
the Tenth, in 1521, when the Reformation was in its early years. He also says 
that almost the only records of contemporary events come from monastic 
annals, and they are naturally not journalistic. 



Tralles, from Asia Minor, could find time to copy and annotate another 
gynecology for women doctors, along with a book of Galen. Gynecology 
and obstetrics were being comparatively well taught, it will be noted, at 
a time when general medicine was almost neglected. Paul of Aegina in 
the following century was saying that the only cure for the plague was 
to eat a raw lettuce leaf and endives, drink cooling teas, and avoid wine. 

Although there were, in the sixth century, almost no women doctors 
or midwives whose names have been preserved, in Constantinople, 
Germany, and France there were queens who had studied medicine, and 
who seemed to find joy in caring for the sick. Clothilde of Burgundy,, 
wife of Clovis (465-511), built a church to Saint Genevieve, and then, 
during the Burgundian war, retired to the monastery of Saint Martin of 
Tours, where she spent her time in caring for the sick. She died in 544 
and was sainted for her good deeds. 1 

The second of these sixth century medical queens was Radegonde, 
wife of Clothaire (497-561), the son of Clovis I. She was a princess 
of Thuringia, an independent kingdom extending from the Danube to 
the Elbe. Clothaire had fought to reunite his father’s kingdom of 
Burgundy with those he had newly inherited. He seized Radegonde, 2 
the daughter of his enemy, and made her his fifth living wife. She was 
then a high spirited girl, and this arrangement was entirely against her 
will. She had, however, her own palace, and here she assembled all 
the lame, sick, and blind beggars of the region, studied their diseases, 
and prescribed the treatment for them. Sometimes the learned men of 
the court were her teachers and consultants, but she soon became very 
skilful in diagnosis herself and cured all sorts of ailments. In her 
religious zeal, however, she went to the excess of kissing the feet of her 
patients, and drying their wounds with her long hair. To her husband 
she was cold and unfeeling, and this so angered him that he killed her 
brother. Whereupon, in 542, Radegonde fled to a convent in Poitiers 
founded by her friend Cesaria. Radegonde herself later became the 
Abbess at Poitiers, and in 550 she sold all her jewels and built a large 
hospital, where she cared for the sick and trained two hundred nurses 
to follow her example. They set bones, dressed wounds, prepared reme- 
dies, made bandages, and spent their spare time in copying manuscripts. 
Many rich women gave Radegonde money for her hospital, while Clo- 
thaire himself saw to it that she never was in want for anything. It 

1 Kurtli, G., “Saint Clothilde,” 1897. 

2 Kavanagh, Julia, “The Women of Christianity,” 1852, pp. 59 ff. 



was said that Radegonde “shrank from no disease.” She died at Poitiers 
in 587 > anc l wonderful cures were said to have been made at her tomb. 

The third royal medical woman of this century was Julia Anicia, 
daughter of the Emperor of the East. She was born at the palace in 
Constantinople, in 472, studied medicine at the Court, and was personal- 
ly interested in hospitals. To her, as a wedding present, was given a 
beautifully illustrated copy of the materia medica of Dioscorides . 1 In 
the first printed edition of this work, produced in the sixteenth century, 
Julia Anicia is portrayed as the Goddess of Intelligence and Discovery. 
In her uplifted hand she holds a mandrake, its head crowned with a 
radiating halo, its root-like feet tipped with toes. In another quaint 
illustration in this edition Julia hands a mandrake to Dioscorides, who 
is distinguished from Julia chiefly by his beard, while the poor dog whose 
life, according to the accepted superstition, was sacrificed to obtain the 
mandrake root is gasping his last breath at her feet . 2 

1 here was one other royal medical woman in this century who 
became famous for her work for the sick and for lepers — Theodolinde, 
the wife of Agilulf, or Ago, King of Lombardy. To her Gregory the 
Great gave an iron crown said to have been made from the nails of the 
true cross, in recognition of her great benevolence and medical skill. 3 
She died about 590. 4 


C 0MINC I now to the seventh century, the strongest tasting and most 
disgusting remedies, along with holy relics, were still what the people 
of Europe craved, for the treatment of disease. These remedies were to 
be gathered or bought according to certain rules, and often at high price. 
Plants with black berries were taboo, as they had been among the de- 

1 Singer, Charles, “History and Method of Science. ” Vol. II, p. 12, shows a 
particularly fine drawing of the sow thistle with its roots and buds and seeds. 
'Ill ere are other illustrations of plants from sixth century manuscripts in 
Singer’s “From Magic to Science,” 1928, pp. 177, 179. 

• The mandrake, a plant of the potato family, was to he pulled from the earth 
by a dog which was supposed then to drop dead on hearing the cries of the 
plant. It was used for quieting pain, for facilitating pregnancy and making 
labor easy, or as a love philtre. The Hebrews as far back as the time of Jacob 
believed in the power of the mandrake to cure sterility. 

3 Kavnnagh, Julia, “The Women of Christianity,” 1852, p. 59, ff. 

‘ Our modern system of dates was the invention of Dionysius Exiguus, who 
lived in the first half of this century. Bede and other historians dwell on this 


votees of Isis in Egypt, 1 but those with white berries, like the mistletoe, 
were supposed to ward off evil spirits. Animal remedies continued in 
favor, and exotic remedies of all kinds were carried from place to place 
by commercial travelers. In Egypt the remedies of the so-called Druids 
were sold in exchange for poppy seeds and preparations of animal pro- 
ducts, such as unicorn horn, mummy powder, etc. Theodore of Tarsus, 
when he arrived at his see of Canterbury in 671, bore with him many 
plants from Asia Minor, the use of which he taught to his monks. He 
also gave them new rules for bleeding and cupping. In return, King 
Offa, of the eighth century, sent doctors from England to Rome to re- 
build the old hospital of Aesculapius according to Christian plans, and 
to teach the Romans the use of British remedies. 2 The foundation of 
Offa’s hospital, and still earlier ones of pagan times, may be traced today 
beneath the modern hospital of Saint John of Calabita on the island in 
the Tiber. 

Throughout this period, in the northern part of Europe, women 
physicians were everywhere recognized. It may be asked where they 
could study in the seventh century. Those who could afford the expense 
went to Alexandria where, from the middle of the sixth century until 
it was destroyed in 640, was the best of existing medical schools. 

Mohammed was born in 570. While he lived the Christians in 
north Africa were not disturbed ; but, after his death in 632, his followers 
were fired with holy zeal to destroy all heretics, 3 and Alexandria and its 
books were destroyed in the process. However much we may deplore 
this third burning of the library at Alexandria, it is probable, if the usual 
story is trustworthy, that most of its books already had been copied, 
and were to be found elsewhere. We must remember that all the 
materia medica of the seventh century was practically worthless. In 
fact, as Thorndike says, 4 the Merovingian period (the fifth to the eighth 
centuries) was “a desert of medieval Latin in which a scholar could not 
tarry long without perishing from intellectual thirst.” 

The only outstanding writer of this period was Paul of Aegina 5 6 

1 Wehrli, G. A., “Essays on the Hist, of Med.,” ed. by Charles Singer, p. 385. 

2 For a type of the traveling Englishman in all ages, see W. E. Mead, “The 
Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century,” 1914. 

3 It took no more than seventeen years to give Mohammedanism the impulse 

from which it has never yet ceased to go forward. Muslim chronology dates 
from the time of Mohammed’s flight to Medina in A. D. 622. (See Sarton, vol. 
I, p. 464.) 

* Thorndike, Lynn, “Magic and Experimental Science,” p. 616. 

6 Paul of Aegina, “De re medica, libri septem.” 



(625-690), who had been a student at Monte Cassino. He quite truth- 
fully declared that there was nothing new in medicine, and modestly 
signed himself “a humble scribe,” which is really what he was. He 
undertook to reduce to seven the seventy volumes of Oribasius, keeping 
intact chiefly the books Oribasius had compiled on gynecology and sur- 
gery. He evidently wrote his seven volumes, which he called the 
Pleiades; but, unfortunately, one is lost and our only knowledge of his 
text on gynecology comes from later writers who quote an occasional item. 

Such as they were, the gynecological teachings of Paul of Aegina 
were followed for hundreds of years by the midwives of Europe. He 
recalled from oblivion several instruments long neglected; among them 
the vaginal speculum, known to the Greeks and Romans before Christ, 
the trocar and canula for draining ascites from the abdomen, a crushing 
instrument for the cure of hemorrhoids, and ligatures as well as cauteries 
for stopping hemorrhage. He also recommended a method of podalic 
version in difficult labor, which had been forgotten since the days of 
Cleopatra. For children he prescribed soothing lotions for sore gums, 
hot baths for convulsions, and suppositories for constipation. Among 
surgical operations he described one for the removal of a cancerous breast ; 
but he regarded cancer of the uterus as hopeless from the first and not 
suitable for operation. Withington considers Paul the most important 
product of the school of Alexandria. He was so helpful to the mid- 
wives among the Mohammedans that they often called on him for help 
in difficult cases although this was against their law. 

It is difficult to determine Paul’s original texts, for his works were 
first translated into Arabic, then back into Latin and from Latin into 
Greek, etc., etc. By the time they were first printed in 1528, the text 
must have become much corrupted. Sometimes the author’s name was 
given as Christopherus Orosius, or Christobal de Orosco, or Paulos 
Aeginita; when his works were translated into English by Francis 
Adams, in 1844-1847, the form chosen was Paul of Aegina. 

Monasticism, which gained headway all over the known world, 1 
in the sixth century, became even more popular in the seventh. Both 
men and women entered convents, where they lived busy but quiet lives. 
'1 he men in their monasteries cultivated the soil and copied manuscripts, 
the women in their institutions learned whatever they chose — household 
arts, teaching the Bible, psalm singing, and especially the care of the 
sick. It was from these convents that women went out into public life 

1 Eckcnstein, Lena, “Women under Monasticism.” 



again to help the infirm, heal the wounded and treat the lepers. These 
early convents were by no means prisons. Their occupants consisted of 
men and women from all classes of society, who wore no special garb, 
and were at this time not under permanent rules or vows. Often they 
were more independent than they would have been in their own homes. 
These early monastic women were really pioneer medical missionaries; 
for, so soon as they had learned the art of healing, they journeyed far 
and wide. In England and in Scandinavia the women of the early 
Middle Ages, with their new-born babies, could travel anywhere, on 
foot or on horseback, without being molested, despite the wars and tur- 
moil of the times. We are told that they even found brass dishes hang- 
ing on the stakes from which to drink at every spring. 1 

In due course women were appointed to rule over certain convents. 
Such women were both earthly magistrates and spiritual mothers, war- 
ring on idleness, punishing laxity of morals, and teaching not only the 
Seven Liberal Arts but whatever was known of medicine. Among the 
most famous of these women abbesses of the seventh century was 
Berthildis, the widow of Clovis II. Following Radegonde’s example, 
she restored the Abbey of Chelles, near Paris; and placed over it Bertile 
(652-702), a learned nun born near Soissons. Together they put an 
end to slavery in the entire region and abolished the oppressive head-tax 
on men and cattle. These reforms aroused strong opposition ; and 
finally, in weary desperation, Berthildis retired to her monastery of 
Chelles 2 where she devoted herself to medical work. She died in 680. 

Some years after the death of Berthildis, Giselle, the sister of 
Charlemagne, ruled this same abbey both wisely and well. It had be- 
come so popular with the nobility of England as well as of France, that 
knights sent their daughters across the Channel to be educated at Chelles, 
and some ot these women founded convents in England on their return. 
To one of these, named Mildred, King Egbert of Kent (664-673) gave 
for a monastery as much land as a deer could run over in one course, 
i.e., 10,000 acres. It is recorded that Mildred ruled with great success; 
and, because of her medical skill, cured hundreds of seemingly hopelessly 
sick. They also affirm that after her death the very dust from her 
tomb and from the rock wffiere she landed at Ebbsfleet cured many 
diseases if merely mixed with water and applied to the body! 

1 Bede, “Ecclesiastical History,” (Bohn Library), 1849, Chap. XVI, p. 100, is 
authority for this statement as of the year A. D. 634, from MS. 

2 Eckenstein, op. cit., p. 85; see also Welch, Alice Kemp, op. cit., 1913, Chap. I, 
and Mrs. Jameson, “Legends of the Monastic Orders,” 1852. 



Among the other abbesses in England in this same century, were 
Bcrthagyta (sometimes called Adelbcrger or Ethelberga), Etheldrida, 
Hilda of Whitby, Walpurga, Theodolinda, and Ottila (or Odilia), each 
noted for her ability. Berthagyta 1 was a descendant of Clothilde of 
Burgundy and of Clovis I, and was a daughter of Haribert, King of the 
Franks, by his Saxon wife, Ingeberg. After her marriage to Ethclbert 
of Kent she corresponded with Pope Gregory the Great, and prepared 
the way for the mission of Saint Augustine to England in 597. In the 
course of a few months her husband, the King, and ten thousand con- 
verts were baptized by Augustine, after which the new religion spread 
rapidly throughout Kent. Bede, 2 * the historian, says that Ethelberga, as 
he called her, was known all over the world for her wisdom. He com- 
pares her with Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine, and adds that 
she established the first Benedictine nunnery in England, at Barking, in 
Essex. During the rest of her life he says, “Ethelberga governed wisely 
and well, teaching medicine to the women under her care, healing the 
sick, and tending them with great skill.” She died about 6i6. ,J 

Queen Etheldrida was the daughter of Ine (or Anna), king of the 
East Angles. Her dowry from Tonbert, her first husband, was the 
island of Ely, where is now the great cathedral, and where she prac- 
ticed among the nuns, teaching them how to treat diseases and to serve 
the poor. They tried also to cure lepers 4 but their success could not 
have been great. Bede (p. 206) says that, when the young Etheldrida 
herself was sick and about to die of an abscess in the neck, a monk named 
Cynefrid was called in consultation; he lanced the abscess and gave her 
great relief, but evidently her system had become poisoned and she died 
four days later, in 660. Bede says that she believed that the Lord had 
sent this sickness because she had been vain of her beautiful neck, and 
he adds that, when her body was exhumed sixteen years later, it was 
perfectly sound, her wound having been miraculously healed. Green, 
in his “Short History of the English People” (vol. I, p. 60), calls her 
Aethclthryth, and says that she was the wife of Ecgfrith, King of North- 

1 Neuburgcr, op. rit., vol. II, p. 9. 

Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of England” (Bohn Library), 18i9, is the 
chief authority for many of these facts. 

* Mrs. Jameson, np. rit., p. 65. 

« Bishon John, according to Bede, could cure almost anything by breathing 
on the patient and by prayer (pp. 238-gH). When Ilcrcbald's skull was broken 
bv a fall from a horse. Bishop John breathed on him and ordered a surgeon o 
bind the head tightly. The cure was immediate, A. D. 686. 


umbria. He agrees, however, that she founded the Abbey of Ely, and 
there performed miracles of healing so that, whatever her name, we have 
an authentic tradition of her medical ability and of her charity to the 
sick. In her memory, in 688, King Ine, or Anna, when in Rome in his 
old age, founded the great San Spirito Hospital, not far from Offa’s 
hospital on the island in the Tiber, 1 which has already been mentioned. 

Perhaps the most famous of these royal abbesses, however, was 
Hilda of Whitby 2 (614-680), the niece of Edwin of Northumbria. She 
was an Anglo-Saxon princess, converted to Christianity by Paulinus, the 
first bishop of Northumbria, in 627. As soon as she was baptized, says 
Bede (p. 1 5 1 ) , she wished to go to Chelles and Poitiers to study medi- 
cine. The bishop, however, urged her to study at a small monastery near 
the river Wear. In 648 he placed her at the head of an abbey at Hartle- 
pool on the Northumbrian coast, where he consecrated her the first nun 
trained in England. In 655, King Oswy (or Oswiu), who had suc- 
ceeded Ecgfrith, requested Hilda to take charge of his estates and assume 
the care of his little daughter Aelfleda. 3 In 657 Hilda built Whitby 
Abbey, a double monastery for men and women on the coast of the 
North Sea, where for thirty years she taught medicine, theology, gram- 
mar, music, and all the known arts. Bede (p. 213) tells us that “five 
bishops were taken from her monastery.” She was a good business 
woman, and skilled in caring for the sick, being always called in 
consultation in time of serious illness. It is said that, when the abbess 
of another monastery was suffering from blood-poisoning in the arm, 
and was “given up to die,” Hilda found that although she had been 
bled at the correct time of the month, the high tide of a waxing moon, 
her arm needed poulticing and prayer ; and so she was healed. 

Hilda’s monastery at Whitby was chosen for one of the greatest 
synods of the Church. We may suppose that Hilda, like Radegonde, 
had trained assistants, or nurses, to do the actual work of the hospital. 
It would have been impossible for one woman to do all that it is said that 
Hilda accomplished (among the other things the teaching to Caedmon of 

1 “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” edited by J. K. Giles (Bolin Library), 1849. King 
Ine had succeeded to the Kingdom of the West Saxons and had built the 
Minster of Glastonbury. 

2 Eneye. Brit., Art. Hilda; and Eckenstein, Chap. III. 

3 Bede, p. 151. An interesting story recounts that this little girl, evidently 
very ill with appendicitis, was in such agony with cramps in her bowels that 
she could not stand erect. Almost in despair of the little sufferer’s life Hilda 
placed the girdle of Saint Cuthbert, wet with holy water, around the child’s 
abdomen, and she recovered ! Cold water or an icebag would be used today. 



the Bible stories which he turned into beautiful songs 1 ). Many are the 
stories of her wisdom, for which we have no room here. She died in 
680, and the king’s daughter, Aelfleda, great-granddaughter of the Saxon 
Edwin, became abbess in her place. She, like Hilda, was skilled in all 
the arts of medicine and surgery, and she gave her personal attention to 
the patients. Bede, whose contemporary history is the source of our 
knowledge of these women, feels obliged, in every case of recovery from 
illness which he records, to give credit for the cure to prayer, or to some 
holy relic, even to dust from a tomb, or to water in which a splinter from 
the cross has been dipped. 

As we turn from the seventh century to the eighth, we at the same 
time cross the Channel to Germany, Bohemia, and Italy. Conditions of 
life there were not very different from those in England. The currents 
set in motion by Benedict and Scholastica had by this time penetrated 
all Europe ; and everywhere learned and pious women were devoting 
themselves to the sick. Among these was an abbess named Odilia (or 
Ottila) of Hohenburg, in Germany, who in 720 built a monastery and 
a hospital which became famous for its cures of eye troubles. It was said 
that Ottila 2 was born blind; and, according to the custom of the times, 
was cast out to die, utterly neglected by her parents. Some nuns found 
her by the roadside and took her to their church for baptism. No sooner 
did the holy water touch her eyes than her sight was miraculously re- 
stored. The child was educated at the monastery, and became a specialist 
in the diseases of the eyes, like Saint Lucia of Italy. 

Another “medical missionary” of this century was Walpurga 
(754-778), an English princess who studied medicine in order to prac- 
tice among the poor. She founded a monastery at Heidenheim, between 
Munich and Nuremberg, and tended the patients in its hospital. She is 
always described or pictured with a flask of urine in one hand, and ban- 
dages in the other. Her pupils became in turn teachers in other institu- 
tions. After Walpurga’s death, she, too, was sainted; and from her 
grave near Eichstadt gushed forth a spring of oil such as she had used 
during her life, by the use of which thousands of patients were said to 
have been healed. 

Harless says (p. 143) that the daughters of Count Crocus of 
Bohemia were all skilled in medicine, and this is affirmed by Pope Pius 

1 See the edition de luxe of the “Caedmon” prepared by Sir Israel Gallancz, 

= Nutting and Dock, vol. I, p. 161; Mrs. Jameson, p. 85. 


the Second, Aeneas Sylvius, who adds that their names were Brela (or 
Kassa), Tetka, and Libussa. Libussa “became a veritable Medea in her 
healing, whether by prayer, by medicine or by magic,” said he. 

Nicaise is probably right in his statement that in Italy many laymen 
and women were practicing medicine from the seventh to the ninth 
centuries. 1 Among the lay medical women, according to Neuburger 2 , 
were several in Lombardy who had been taught by Paul the Deacon, 
historian of Lombardy, 720-800. 3 One of these was Adelberger (or 
Bertha), the daughter of Desiderius, the king who ruled 756-774, and 
was the last ruler of the Lombards. Paul asserts that there was a guild 
of lay physicians centering in Lucca and Pistoia, in northern Italy, who 
had established certain requirements for the practice of medicine. This 
Paid was almost the first medieval historian, a Benedictine monk of 
Como, and a man of erudition. Though much less medical than Paul 
of Aegina, he also, in his way, helped to prepare a basis for the later 
great school at Salerno. 

During the eighth century manners and customs and languages were 
all changing as a result of continually increasing travel. French was 
becoming quite distinct from Latin, and Spanish and Italian differentiated 
from each other. The Arabs, or Moors, were swarming along the coasts, 
and bringing into their ports many new and strange words, while Greeks 
from Constantinople, Jews from Palestine, and merchants from the far 
north were all meeting at various centers. Each had some influence on 
the language of the others, although Latin was still the language of the 
scholars and very advantagous for travelers as well. In the far east, 
however, the language of commerce and medicine was still Greek. 

This century saw also a change in chronology generally adopted, 
and great advances in geography. Bede died in 735 believing that the 
earth was flat, circular and yet four cornered, with a layer of water 
above the sky ; but even in his time there were some intelligent minds 
who dared to doubt. Handwriting was changing again to a new style, 
beautiful to look at but hard to read, called the Beneventan script, from 
the town in southern Italy where monks were particularly busy in 
copying manuscripts. 

As the countries during this century were in the main at peace, 
and visited by neither famine nor plague, their people became lazy 

1 Nicaise, E., Les Ecoles de Medecine et la fondation des Univer sites au 
Moyen Age,” 1891. 

2 Neuburger, vol. II, p. 9. 

3 Encyc. Brit. 1929, vol. XVII, “Panlus Diaconus.” 



and extravagant in their food and clothing. Men and women who could 
afford luxuries “decked themselves limb by limb” with robes of many 
colors. They wore vests of fine linen of violet color, scarlet tunics with 
hoods, sleeves with fur or silk trimmings, and curled their hair 
with crisping irons. Women added a thin white veil to their head 
dresses with ribbons reaching to the ground, and pared their finger- 
nails to resemble the talons of a falcon. Even nuns dressed themselves 
in such style for their journeys to Rome on horseback. Abbesses took 
pilgrimages with a retinue of servants, visiting monasteries and abbeys 
en route, to pick up the latest fashions in food and clothing, and hear the 
freshest gossip. As a rule they went as far south as Monte Cassino to 
buy books, but a visit to the Pope was the main object of the journey. 

Of the strictly medical women of this century we know scarcely a 
name; but we do know that there were such because all over Europe 
laws enacted for the medical profession during this period specifically 
mention women “doctors,” as well as midwives. The fee tables were 
much like those of former centuries, and the penalties for death or injury- 
in surgical cases were as horrifying as in earlier times. If, for example, 
a patient died after an abortion the surgeon who caused it might forfeit 
her life, and her descendants to the seventh generation were obliged to 
pay an indemnity to the family of the deceased. 

During this century the power of the Popes was steadily increasing. 
Pepin, the king of the western countries in 754, made Pope Stephen II 
the “visible head of the church.” This action in effect divided the 
Italian peninsula into the kingdom of the Lombards, and the papal 
kingdom at the south. Charlemagne, twenty years later, found it 
necessary to protect the papal territories from the Lombards, and at the 
same time to combine all the force of the Eastern and Western kingdoms 
against the Arabs. In gratitude for this protection Pope Leo III placed the 
iron crown of Theodolinde on the head of Charlemagne, A.D. 800, and 
thus was born the Holy Roman Empire. Fortunately, Charlemagne 
was sufficiently powerful to bring peace to all Europe for a time. He 
established schools throughout his great kingdom where boys and girls 
might study all the known arts and sciences; built hospitals and libraries; 
endowed monasteries where manuscripts were copied ; and encouraged 
the planting of herb gardens. He had been himself a student at Monte 
Cassino, and knew the value of medical books and the necessity for 
medicinal plants. 1 Alcuin of York (736-804), a friend and companion 

1 In 820, six years after his death, the herbs of the monastery of St. Gall, in 
Switzerland, were so famous that they were sold to “honest people” and itiner- 
ant vendors, and by them taken all over the world. Daremberg believes that 
many original medical books were produced at St. Gall which sometime may 
again see the light of day. 


of Charlemagne, was commissioned to institute libraries and medical 
schools in every monastery. Thus was founded, in 794, the old monas- 
tery of St. Albans, not far from London, whose schools and collection 
of chained books drew students from all over Europe, especially during 
the ninth century when Alfred was King. 

It was in this century that the Arabs began to be famous as medical 
students, and as translators and writers of medical books. In 71 1 they 
conquered Spain, as they had already conquered Persia and northern 
Africa. Settling in Spain, however, was a longer and more difficult 
process than it had been in the other countries; but the Arabs eventually 
made themselves at home there and kept it at peace for nearly five 
hundred years. Under leadership of the great Haroun al Raschid, of 
Bagdad, 736-809, a remarkable civilization sprang up in all of the Arab 
countries. Mosques were built in every large city, attached to which 
were always a school and a hospital, the latter generally well built with 
the best of sanitation and the greatest comfort. In Bagdad the medical 
school is said to have had six thousand pupils, women as well as men ; 
and the schools in Cairo, Kairouan, Cordova and Toledo were almost 
as important. Women were given long and practical courses in mid- 
wifery and alchemy, in order to care for the secluded Mohammedan 
women, for women were naturally the physicians and surgeons in the 
harems. At Bagdad, however, there was a man teacher of obstetrics, 
Abul Faragh. Educated by the Nestorians in Persia, and at one time 
one of the physicians of Charlemagne's family, he was later, because of 
his great ability, summoned to be a teacher at this Mohammedan school 
in Mesopotamia. Being strong and self-reliant, he was allowed to enter 
the lying-in-rooms of all Moslem cities, assisting the midwives in diffi- 
cult cases. He always praised the women for their skill ; and they, in 
return, were grateful for his help. 

The Arabs were famous translators and copyists from both the Latin 
and the Greek, and their libraries grew by leaps and bounds. That at 
Cordova, within its first hundred years, was said to have acquired two 
hundred and twenty-four thousand volumes. Many of our medical 
terms such as alcohol, naphtha, camphor, etc. were coined at this time. 
Unfortunately, both the Arabs and the Jews disliked surgery and the 
study of anatomy. Dissections were most disagreeable to them ; although 
they finally did notice and record the fact that the human uterus is not 
seven-parted or like that of a pig. 

Several Arabians of about this time wrote medical books for the 
general public. Mesue (777-837), the son of a physician, and a Chris- 



tian, was physician to one of the Caliphs of Bagdad. At his own house 
he opened an academy of medicine; and there he wrote his famous 
Ant id otar him, which at once became very popular because, in easy 
language, it discussed such common topics as fevers, bloodletting, astrol- 
ogy, baths, etc. Mesue’s theory as to the cause of disease was simple 
but somewhat original. He thought that disease was a sort of putre- 
faction which bred flies and that the flies caused the symptoms of the 
sickness. One of Mesue’s hobbies was his “anesthetic sponge.” He 
called it his “consolation." A solution of poppy juice, mandrake and 
vinegar was soaked up by a sponge, heated and inhaled. Mesue said it 
would cure the blues, drive away all pain, strengthen the patient’s opti- 
mism, and help a woman in labor. This anesthetic sponge became a 
favorite device two hundred years or more later, among the teachers at 

In the ninth century another Christian Arab, Johannitius (809- 
873), wrote another popular medical book, which he called the 
" Articella.” The materials in this book, like that of Mesue, were 

mostly taken from Galen, but it was written in an easy style, and was also 
a favorite for centuries among Arabs, Jews and Christians alike. 1 

The most famous writer of the ninth century was, however, an 
Arab named Rhazes, 860-932. He is classified by Garrison with Hippo- 
crates, Aretaeus, and Sydenham, as “a clinician of ability who described 
diseases with understanding.” Rhazes had been a student at Bagdad, and 
became the director of its largest hospital and also court physician. He 
is said to have written more than two hundred articles on medicine, 
astronomy, philosophy, and physiochemistry. The majority of these 
have been lost; but, from those that remain, we find that he knew Greek, 
Arabic, Persian and Indian languages and literature. He had travelled 
in many countries, had collected books, and had written an encyclopedia 
of all knowledge. Sudhoff says that Rhazes was the first to give us a 
book on pediatrics, the first to describe measles and smallpox, and the 
first to distinguish other exanthematous diseases. He proved that dead 

1 Neuburger, vol. II, p. 47, says that the Arabians copied and translated 
whatever they found. They cared nothing for the rules of grammar, mutilated 
names, corrupted technical terms, made almost unintelligible transpositions in 
the text, and often so confused the meaning that it is difficult to make sense 
out of their result. Max Meyerhof says that in the nintli century there were 
one hundred Christian medical writers, three pagans who worshipped the stars, 
three Jews and five Mussulmans. Two hundred years later the tables had 
turned and there were only four Christian medical writers, seven Jews and the 
rest Mussulmans. See Withington, op nit., and also Max Meyerhof, article in 
Isis, vol. XII, no. 37, 1929. 



animals polluted wells or streams, even though running water was sup- 
posed to be harmless. He believed in the curative effect of sunlight and 
fresh air, and in every way was as progressive as was possible in that 
century. There were sixty hospitals in Damascus when he lived there, 
all under his jurisdiction. 

There are some phrases in Rhazes that might give the impression 
that, despite all his wisdom and honors, he was sometimes a bit jealous 
of his women colleagues. One of his books 1 has on its title page the sub- 
title ‘ Why ignorant practitioners, and common women, may be more 
successful in curing certain complaints than better informed physicians” ; 
and, in another place he says, “If a doctor does not cure a patient quickly, 
a woman doctor is then called in, and she gets the credit of the cure.” 
But this impression does not do him justice. As a matter of fact he 
frankly acknowledges that he had often learned new remedies from 
women herbalists . . . “who” he says “had little knowledge of medicine 
but great insight”; and he admits that from women he also learned to 
try small doses of mild medicines rather than stronger remedies. He 
also says that women doctors often succeed by kindness and optimism, 
and that they have greater humanity than men. Such fairness and 
frankness as this is a delight, especially when one considers his real great- 
ness. Despite his generosity and his learning he died blind and in 
poverty in 823. Sarton calls him the greatest clinician of Islam. 


JCJOWEVER peaceful 2 the large cities of the Arabs may have been in 

the ninth and tenth centuries, there was little peace in the rest of 
Europe after the days of Charlemagne. As the Mohammedans poured up 
from the south, so the Norsemen poured down from the north, both ad- 
vancing over Europe like huge stone rollers. And there were local dis- 
turbances. In 928, Theodora, a concubine of one of the Roman senators 
as well as of the reigning Pope, John X, with the help of her children and 
others, attacked the papal palace, dragged the Pope out, and imprisoned 
him in Castle Angelo, where he soon died. Then Theodora’s son was 
made Pope, under the name of John XI. This act shows the temper of 
the women of Italy at that time. Nor were the women of England less 
obstreperous. When John Scot Erigena was teaching at the court of 
Alfred, his students, women as well as men, stabbed him to death because 

1 Neuburger, vol. I, pp. 360-363. 

2 De Renzi, Salvatore, “Colleclio Salernitana,” 1852-59, vol. I. 



they objected to his theology. His worst fault seems to have been that 
he believed that creation was a process instead of a single act. 1 

John Scot Erigena was an Irishman; but his originality was not 
typical of the Ireland of the ninth century. As a matter of fact it was 
quite otherwise. There was peace in Ireland 2 during most of the ninth 
century. The people were superstitious, poetic, and imaginative ; they 
were, to the best of their ability, preparing for the approaching 
millennium. In medicine the practical teaching of Patrick and Bridget 
had been submerged in a sea of tradition. Whether a diagnosis was 
correct or not made very little difference, for treatment was the same 
in any case. Graves (p. 138) repeats a story showing how the doctors 
and nurses of this period did their work. It happened that one of 
the opponents of Cuculain received such injuries that every bone in his 
body was broken. He was taken to a bone-setter of Ulster to be healed. 
The leech’s house had four wide-open doors to let the winds pass through 
freely, and a stream of pure water flowed through his hall. The leech 
and his assistants, many of them maidens, set all the bones, and made the 
patient comfortable on a bed of healing, whereupon they gave an elo- 
quent and agreeable discourse to the audience which had gathered to 
watch the proceedings. 3 

In the meantime, while Arabian writers were copying texts, Jewish 
physicians, although, according to Billings, they were “contraband 
luxuries,” were the chief doctors of the royal families of Europe. 4 They 
were also eagerly sought, and handsomely paid, by princes and merchants 
in every country. This, not unnaturally, gained them the hatred of the 
Christian and Arab doctors whose patients they treated, and was one of 
the things which led to their later persecution. But large fees are not 
a temptation to all physicians, men or women, Jews, Arabs or Christians. 
We are told that one Arab doctor received the equivalent of $750 for 
bleeding and purging the Commander of the Faithful twice a year. 

W e have said that nothing new in medicine developed during these 
centuries, but there was a new theory of dosage on the similia sirnilibus 

1 This theory was too unorthodox for the people of the Middle Ages. At this 
time the Abbey of St. Albans, where Alfred established Alcuin’s medical school, 
was England’s teaching center. Alfred’s mother had been his tutor. 

2 Alfred Percival Graves, “Irish Translations of the Ninth Century,” 1927. 

3 The Celtic Aesculapius was a man named Diancecht, who lived 831-903. He 
had a son and daughter who excelled him in healing. Vida Latham {Med. 
Woman's Jour., 1917) says that their house was on the bank of a stream, open 
to wind and sun, and furnished with heat, baths, etc. 

* E. T. Withington, op. cit., p. 171. 



curantur plan, which had a brief vogue. The remedy was to be used 
with certain prayers, and its basic idea was that it was only necessary to 
know where there was a pain, and then find its counterpart. For in- 
stance, the lungs of a fox were to be given for a cough, its brains for 
epilepsy, its fresh muscles for anemia, and plants of the approximate shape 
of a special anatomical organ to cure that organ. 1 

The most amazing thing about the materia medica of these centuries 
was that people had sufficient faitli in the most fantastic medical notions 
to adhere to them so long. We say this and then remember that in 
Morocco today one finds these notions still in existence. The “Leech 
Book of Bald,” written about 900, is quite as good as anything now 
in use among the uneducated Arabs of Marrakech or Fez. 

Take this “Leech Book of Bald” 2 , an Anglo-Saxon Materia Medica 
in three volumes, dating from the early tenth century. The first volume 
is an alphabetically arranged formulary of remedies; the second treats of 
internal disease ; the third is a concise account of herbs, charms, and 
prayers. “Leech” was, of course, the old word for “doctor”; and “Bald” 
may have been the name of the author. 3 The book was written in the 
vernacular for the use of the common people of England. 4 

Some of the herbs of the “Leech Book” were to be dug or cut 
at a certain time of the moon, others were to be stabbed with a knife, 
in silence, and left while the gatherer went to church to pray. Or he 
might return to take it mixed with moss from a crucifix. Holy water 
from a baptismal font, wax from an ear, pious formulae written on 
paper and worn by the patient, were all considered remedial. Even in 

1 Garrison, loc. cit., p. 219. 

2 Payne, J. F., ‘'The Fitzpatrick Lectures,” 1903. See also Neuburger, vol. 
II, p. 18, and Cockayne “Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft,” 1865, vol. 2. 

3 Lynn Thorndike suggests that a Jew, named Jesu Haly, of Bagdad, may 
have been its author. 

4 A few examples from the “Leech Book” will show us what sort of remedies 
it recommends, and how dependent these were upon magical phrases. For 
bleeding hemorrhoids: Delve round a plant of celandine root and take it with 
thy two hands turned upwards, and sing over it nine pater-nosters, and at the 
ninth, at “Deliver us from evil,” snap it up, and take from that plant and 
others that may be there a little cupful of the juice, and let him drink it. It 
will soon be well with him. For the delirious: Gather bishops root, lupin, 
boneset, polypodium-fern, corn-cockles and elecampane, sing the names of the 
saints and a pater-noster thrice about these herbs, then take them to church 
and sing again the names and twelve Masses in honor of the twelve apostles. 
For a large boil: Dig up a dock, jerk it from the ground to the tune of a 
pater-noster, take five slices of it and seven pepper-corns, mix them thorough- 
ly while singing twelve times the miserere and gloria and pater-noster, then 
pour it all over with wine, and at midnight drink the dose and wrap thyself 
up warm. 



China today patients of a certain type swallow the paper on which a 
prescription is written. 

For the pains of labor the names of the Virgin Mary, or of Lazarus, 
were to be written in wax and bound beneath the foot of the patient — 
the name of Lazarus being used because he came quickly out of the 
tomb when called ! Sores and eczema were treated by calling upon 
Solomon; and Longinus was mentioned in connection with a stitch in 
the side. For fever several herbs were gathered, such as fever-few, 
fennel, and plantain, then boiled with holy water, and the names of the 
Apostles repeated, along with a hodgepodge of Arabic words denoting 
ancient idols. 

Could anything be more absurd than these remedies? It would 
hardly seem possible; yet, even after a thousand years, there are still 
intelligent people who believe in such extraordinary nonsense as the 
possibility of preventing rheumatism by wearing a rabbit’s foot, or a dried 
potato, or a “cramp ring,” or in curing a pain by having an “oxygenator” 
tied to the patient’s foot or hand. 

As for the midwifery of this century there is little to say about it 
except that it had degenerated abominably from the time of Cleopatra 
and Aspasia. There was no longer any idea of turning the infant, either 
by podalic nor cephalic version. Often the ignorant midwives waited 
until the infant and the mother were both dead before extracting the 
child. Gynecology consisted mainly in the use of poisonous remedies to 
cure sterility, and barbarous operations to procure abortions. There are 
still native doctors in Egypt and Morocco, who depend on these methods 
of the early Middle Ages. 1 II The midwives there still believe in watchful 
waiting for the end of labor, or else, while the patient squats on the 
floor, the midwife pushes and pulls on the baby. The will of Allah 
of course determines life or death, and nothing they might do could in 
any case change the fate of the patient! 

I he Jew Donnolo, born in 913, should have his name recorded 
here; for, though not an Arab, he was kidnapped as a child by the 
Saracens and taken to Palermo to be educated. He learned both Arabic 
and Latin, studied all the sciences, and finally escaped to Salerno, to 
teach in the medical school there, which was then in its infancy. He 
soon became a friend of the noted Christians who went to Salerno either 
for its healing springs, or to study at its medical school. Here Niketas 

I See the writings of La Doctoresse Legey, published by the Institut des 

I I autes-Ltudes Marocaines. Also her “Contes et Legendes Populmre du 
Maroc,” 1926. This book has been translated into English. 


was already copying Soranus once more, and illustrating his manuscript 
with nearly a hundred free hand drawings; and Bishop Peter III and 
Bishop Alfanus, “ prudentiss'imus et nobilissimus clericus,” were already 
teaching medicine. Donnolo, owing to his acquaintance with several 
languages, became a teacher of materia medica; and his “ Antidot arium” 
was popular for years because of its condensed list of drugs, only about 
one hundred in all, mostly of vegetable origin, as against the nearly seven 
hundred which by this time had come to be recommended by the ancient 
teachers. Sarton (p. 682) believes that to such men as Donnolo, who 
wrote in Hebrew, and to his contemporaries who wrote in Latin and 
Greek and Arabic, was due the character of the Salerno school. 

There is one other Mohammedan writer of the tenth century, 
perhaps the most important of all, whose books were used by the medical 
profession for centuries, very nearly superseding those of Galen. This 
was Ibn Sina, better known as Avicenna, a great scholar, born near 
Bokhara in 980. In his fifty-seven years of life he wrote one hundred 
and five books, in Arabic and Persian ; and elaborated and reclassified 
the works of Galen and Aristotle ; and, although he was never much of a 
practitioner himself, and hated the sight of blood, he was able to keep a 
score of copyists busy while personally leading a licentious life. Yet he 
was able, by the clarity and comprehensiveness of his presentation of it, 
to make medicine seem to be a perfect and finished science, so perfect 
and so finished that he effectively discouraged all original experimenta- 
tion and investigation for hundreds of years. 1 To the women doctors of 
all those years his books were precious, for they were easy to understand, 
easy to memorize, and pleasing in style. Avicenna also offered them a 
far wider range of medicine than Donnolo had ; and that was an asset 
in an age when there were no specific remedies, and when the more 
complex the nostrums were, the better they were liked. 

In the meantime at Braunschweig, in the northern part of Ger- 
many, there lived a learned woman, Hrosvitha (935-1000), perhaps as 
worthy to sit among the immortals as any of the Arabian writers. 
Hrosvitha was a Benedictine nun of Gandersheim, the daughter of 
Heinrich, duke of Bavaria, “illustris et clarissima virgo ei monacalis.” 
She wrote religious dramas modelled on Terence, Vergil, Horace and 
Plautus ; but, in the midst of her literary efforts, she gathered herbs for 
medicine, and traveled about among rich and poor, caring for the sick. 2 

1 Sarton, op. cit., pp. 709-711. 

2 Crump and Jacobs, op. cit., p. 167. 

I 12 


Sarton- says that Hrosvitha “embodied the science, mathematics, litera- 
ture and drama of her age.” Her six religious comedies were antici- 
pations of the later miracle plays; and her " Carmen de gestis Ottonis 
a history of Otto the Great, who was crowned in Rome in 962, and 
whose cousin she herself was, was comparable to the history of the Eng- 
lish written by Alfred the Great, who died in 901. It was said of her 
that she read Greek and Eatin, and “wrote both by divine grace.” 

It is a pleasure to visualize this nun, Hrosvitha, as she went about 
on her peaceful medical work, returning to her cell in the evening to 
write. Although she never became an abbess, we are told that she 
taught medicine and treated patients like any other woman doctor, be- 
sides attending to literary work in her free hours. We may only regret 
that she never wrote anything that has as yet come to light on medical 
topics. When the countries all about Braunschweig were in tumult, 
the monastery at Gandersheim was an oasis of community stud}'. This 
monastery, and others like it, were the forerunners of our present day 
women’s colleges. 

Hrosvitha s cousin, Mathilda, abbess of the monastery at Quedlin- 
burg, had equal medical skill. She ruled the empire during the infancy 
of her nephew, Otto III, grandson of Otto I; raised an army and de- 
feated the invading Wends in 983, and she also supplied Hrosvitha with 
considerable material for her medical and historical work. This was not 
without precedent in Germany, however, for their grandmother, Maud, 
queen of the first Saxon King, Henry the Fowler (crowned 919), tended 
the poor and sick “with pious fervor.” Cunegunde, somewhat later the 
widow of the emperor of Bavaria, Henry II (crowned in 1002) also re- 
tired to a monastery, and gave her time and strength to the sick. She 
became a Benedictine nun, but not an abbess, and died in 1038. There 
is a story that, having been accused of immoral relations with a man of 
the court, she walked barefooted over red-hot plowshares to prove her 
innocence. These were very human women, often very benevolent, and 
frequently generous to a fault, doing the humble duties of physician and 
nurse in troublesome times, but sometimes maligned. 

As the tenth century merged into the eleventh we find the medical 
Arabs still copying Galen, still disbelieving in the efficacy of Christian 
relics as remedies tor disease, but trying experiments with new chemicals, 
and translating books unceasingly from one language into another, thus 
preserving them. In far-away China, it happened that, at about this 

1 Sarton, G., op. cit., p. 658. 


time, a new medical treatment was being re-developed, treatment by 
acupuncture by means of which medicines were done away with, the 
body being pierced by needles in many spots so that from each a devil of 
disease might be exorcised. Fortunately, this was one medical aberra- 
tion which never got a foothold in the western world, where the “Canon 
of Avicenna” was now becoming the standard textbook of medicine. 

At the end of the eleventh century, a great new medical school was 
arising in Constantinople under the leadership of Anna Comnena 
(1083-1148), daughter of Alexis I. Like Hrosvitha, she wrote a great 
history, an elaborate work in fifteen volumes, of her father’s reign. 
She studied and taught all that was then known of medicine, and also 
practiced in all the hospitals and orphan asylums of Constantinople. The 
ruins of her great red palace still stand on the hill above the Golden 
H orn. It once had porphyry columns, beautiful paintings, a gold and 
ivory throne, but now its broken windows look out on ruined walls and 
a crescent sea that glows like fire in the sunset. 

Chapter III 

The School of Salerno: Trotula 


A LTHOUGH students of art and architecture consider the thir- 
teenth the greatest of centuries, and tell us that it was the begin- 
ning of the Renaissance in Europe, the eleventh century was the 
one that gave a fresh impetus to exploration and commerce, and, what 
is of interest to us, to medicine. Hitherto, as we have found, it was 
Greece, Rome and Constantinople, and the great Moslem cities of 
Northern Africa, Asia Minor, and Spain that determined all the ad- 
vances in the arts and sciences; but, by the middle of the eleventh cen- 
tury, the Normans from the western coast of France began their con- 
quests, either from motives of commerce or from religious zeal ; and in 
1046 Robert Guiscard, “the Resourceful,” transported his army to south- 
ern Italy to unite with the Lombards in expelling, not only the “pagan 
Saracens,” but also the Greeks, who had been there for fifteen hundred 
years. Incidentally, the Lombards within a few years were themselves 
forced to retire and submit to the Normans, who were then being aided 
by the armies of the Pope. Thus Europe’s centers of culture were pushed 
to the west; and, in the course of the next two centuries, teachers from 
the schools of southern Italy were giving in France and England the 
medical courses that had first been given at Salerno, on the coast of 
Italy thirty miles southeast of Naples. 

Such seaports as Salerno, Constantinople, and Alexandria must 
have been full of excitement in those days, when Egyptians and 
Arabs from North Africa, Greeks and barbarians from the east, Nor- 
mans from the far west, and Visigoths and Saracens from Spain, all 
enemies to one another, and ready for attack by sea or by land, met and 
fought at the slightest provocation. To the victor belonged the 
spoils; and, whether Christian or pagan, one nation or man was not less 
cruel than another. Salerno had been for centuries the halting place for 

Salerno as it Appears Today. 

{The “x” marks the castle on the hill, the “y” the cathedral.) 


1 15 

merchants, and for pilgrims to or from the Holy Land, and there, in 
the eleventh century, travellers found not only a haven of refuge but 
famous medicinal springs, guest houses, hospitals, and a coeducational 
medical school where the latest methods of cure were used, with or 
without recourse to the bones of saints. Longfellow, in “The Golden 
Legend,” mentions the 

“Pilgrims and mendicant friars and traders 
From the Levant with figs and wine, 

And bands of wounded and sick Crusaders 
Coming back from Palestine.” 

Salerno had been famous for its healing springs ever since Augustan 
times, when Antonius Musa, the physician to Vergil and Horace, sent 
patients there rather than to Baiae. We are told 1 that the bishop of 
Verdun, Adalberon, went there in 948 to find a cure for stones 
in the bladder, having failed to get relief from the sacred relics 
of saints. His physicians were two other bishops, Pietro III and Grimo- 
ald, who removed the stones by the aid of Saint Benedict while the 
patient slept. Fifty years later, Salerno had become a melting pot of all 
nationalities and religions, for, besides the medical monks of Monte 
Cassino, who lived there collecting manuscripts of medical, philosophical 
and religious books, and copying them in the Beneventan script, 
there were Arabs and Jews, Greeks and Romans, laymen and ecclesias- 
tics, talking all languages, but uniting to converse in a sort of debased 
Latin which presumably every educated person could understand. The 
medical works of Hippocrates and Galen and Aristotle were the sources 
of the medical teaching; but they were translated into the other 
languages, and written down or memorized by the students. Men and 
women studied together at Salerno under men or women teachers. And 
among the most famous teachers of the faculty in the eleventh century 
was a woman named Trotula, or Trotta, whom we shall discuss later at 

Of all the peoples who met at Salerno, the Jews were perhaps the 
most pacific and scholarly, the Arabs the most skilled in astronomy and 
mathematics, the Greeks most able in logic and theological discussion. 
Of the Christians, the Normans were inclined to be the most fanatical 
and belligerent ; whereas the previously ruling Lombards had been 
liberal-minded and good assimilators, mild and wise in governing the 
heterogeneous nationalities who made up the city’s population. Salerno 

1 Schelenz, Hermann, “ Geschichte cler Pharmazie,” 1904, p. 303. Cumston, 
Charles Greene, “Introduction to the History of Medicine from the Time of 
the Pharaohs to the End of the XVIII Century,” 1926, p. 213. 


1 16 

is beautifully situated, on a hillside above a cup-shaped bay, with tier on 
tier of mountains rising behind and above its houses. In the eleventh 
century it was much larger than it is now; it contained convents and 
churches, hostels for pilgrims, and hospitals for the sick or maimed, 
where there were not only physicians and nurses but pharmacists and 
priests to provide remedies for ailments of both the bodies and souls of 
visitors. The conquering Normans were an uncongenial element. They 
would not tolerate the Greek religion or the Moslem ; nor would 
they permit idleness among the women. It is said that Judith, the wife 
of Roger 1, fought like a man in the war, and ate the warm heart of her 
enemy, while Roger himself performed as mighty feats of valor as had 
his father, Robert, or his grandfather, Tancred of Hauteville. 1 

1 Robert Guiscard was the sixth son of the mighty Tancred of Hauteville in 
Normandy, now called Tancarville, where the ruins of his castle on a height 
above the Seine may be seen today. Several of the sons of Tancred went to 
southern Italy to make their fortunes, Robert arriving in A.D. 1016. He at 
once joined the Lombard rider in an attempt to drive out the Greeks and 
Saracens, but soon found himself attacked by the rebellious natives and the 
armies of the Pope. In 1059, however, the Pope had a change of heart and 
joined forces with Robert so that they became masters of the country. Robert 
was created Duke of Apulia and Calabria, and future Lord of Sicily, “by the 
grace of God and St. Peter.” In the following twenty years he and his 
powerful brothers invaded and conquered most of Sicily, where, to make him- 
self more secure, Robert married Sikelgaita, or Sichelgaita, sister of the 
Lombard prince, Gisidf, and daughter of Duke Gaimar of Salerno. O rdericus 
Yitalis tells us that she was a “well-known toxicologist.” Historians say that 
she had studied medicine in order to get rid of obnoxious people at the court. 
She did try to poison Bohemund, her step-son; but failed because her attempt 
was discovered through a pharmacist who had been ordered to compound her 

Marion Crawford tells us the story of this Bohemund, who became the 
first ruler and hero of the Southern Kingdom, and Anna Comnena gives us 
many details of these early Normans, along with other character studies. 
Roger I ( 1 0.‘3 1-1101), the elder brother of Robert Guiscard, supported his 
nephew, Roger, against Bohemund, whose son by Adelaide, his third wife, 
eventually became Roger II. This Roger lived at Palermo, ruling wisely. 
He was crowned in 1130, and during the next twenty-four years he formed 
an alliance with Louis VI of France, Henry I of England, and Lothar of 
Germany, so that together they almost conquered Greece and Constantinople. 
Anna Comnena tells us that he was tall and powerful, with long fair hair and 
a full flowing beard, lie was an absolute monarch, maintained peace when 
once he had his way, and allowed people of all religions to worship as they 
pleased. After the death of Roger II, Salerno was sacked under the em- 
peror, Henry VI, but restored by Frederic Barbarossa, although the medical 
school never quite recovered its prestige. 

Robert Guiscard, while ruling the vast territories of southern Italy, was 
called King of England in the writings of Peter the Deacon; although, by 
remaining in Italy and making a journey to the Holy Land, he actually lost 
England to his cousin, William the Norman. It has been said that Sikelgaita, 
his wife, died because she sucked the poison from a wound in his leg when he 
returned from Jerusalem. In gratitude for his victories, Robert in 1077 
built the cathedral of Salerno, and dedicated it to St. Matthew. Its great 
fore-court pillars, 28 in all, were brought from the Greek temples at Paestum, 
forty miles away. He also built a castle, and surrounded the city with a strong 


1 1 7 

Salerno rapidly became a rich and beautiful city. The bronze doors 
of the cathedral were a present from a rich citizen, and its pulpit was 
given by a penitent warrior who, like the Duke, had “slain his hundreds 
with a great sword.” The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem were given 
a new hospital by the Chancellor of Salerno, and Robert did so much 
for the medical school that they gratefully prepared a compendium of 
medicine as a present to him. It was inscribed, “Roberto regi scripsit 
schola tota Salerni This inscription was diplomatically changed from 
time to time to dedicate the work anew to later rulers . 1 

It is hopeless for us to try to understand the medical life of the 
Middle Ages, and especially of the eleventh century, without taking into 
account the religious life of the people. If we shudder at the cruelty 
of the so-called Christian Normans in their urge to destroy the enemies 
of their faith, we should also shudder at the terrible slaughter of 
Christians by the “infidels.” Every man was willing to die in defense of 
his belief. Scholastic discussions were taking the place of the practical 
religion of Jesus Christ; and southern Italy, with its precious relics 
of the saints, its monasteries and great churches , 2 was the center for 

If we visit today the city of Salerno on the point of its curving bay, 
the first object that strikes the eye is Robert’s old ruined castle on the 
hilltop, and the mossy wall that zigzags up to it. Beyond, and quite 
around the horizon, rise picturesque hills on which dark stone pines stand 
out against the sky among terraced vineyards and clusters of pink and 
yellow houses. Where once by the shore stood Robert’s great wall is now 
a shaded promenade, bordered with gardens gay with stonecrop, 
foxgloves, begonias, and other flowers in season. The old church of 
St. Matthew with its marble pillars stands out prominently on the hill- 
side, and there pilgrims and tourists still may see the relics of the saints 
and the marvelous pulpit and bronze doors dating from the twelfth 

At least one generation before Robert’s time there had been a 
medical school at Salerno ; but not a trace of the foundations of its 
buildings can be found today. Whether it had been originally a religious 
institution carried on by the monks of Monte Cassino or not, nobody 
knows; but by the middle of the eleventh century it was already coedu- 

1 Article by Edmund Curtis, of the University of Dublin, in “Encyclopedia 
Britannica,” and Crawford, F. Marion, “The Southern Kingdom,” volume II, 

2 Crawford, op. cit., p. 197. 

1 18 


cational, and among its professors, or magistri, were lay men and women. 
Sarton says that it was the first non-religious medical school in Christian 
Europe, and that it was influenced by Lombards, Greeks, Jews, and 
Arabs, becoming in the twelfth century mainly Arabic. 1 Orderic Vitalis 
says that its learned monks, and its lay men and women teachers, 
attracted hundreds of students from all over the world to their lectures. 
At least one of these teachers, Trotula, became a magistra ; and her fame 
has come down to us through the ages, not only through her writings, 
which were copied and used for seven hundred years, but through verbal 

Sir D’Arcv Power and Capparoni 3 say that the school of Salerno, 
like the universities of Paris, Oxford and Cambridge, began with a 
voluntary assembly of masters and pupils, obtaining a charter and recog- 
nized position only at a much later date. Sarton adds that, from no 
definite beginning, the school had a gradual growth, becoming in the 
eleventh century the only scientific center of international significance. 
It is quite probable, however, that the medical school was originally 
an offshoot of the monastery at Monte Cassino, where, in 529, St. Bene- 
dict had founded his order, and had set the monks to collecting and 
copying manuscripts of all kinds. When, in 884, the Saracens sacked 
the monastery, the monks fled to Salerno for refuge. There they soon 
resumed their old routine, living as a community for nearly two hundred 

Daremberg, Elaeser 1 and other historians emphasize the lay charac- 
ter of the school at Salerno, and call attention to the women teachers. 
Orderic Vitalis, the most trustworthy contemporary historian (died 
1142), though not particularly interested in medicine, tells us of the 
visit to Salerno of a certain celebrated Frenchman named Rudolph Mala 
Corona (died 1068), a monk of Marmoutier in Normandy, who was so 
skilled in medicine that his equal could scarcely be found in all the 
country with the sole exception of “one wise matron in Salerno.” This 
Rudolph was one of seven sons and four daughters of Gisela of Baten- 
bourg, and Giroie, a French nobleman. His sister, Judith, to whom we 

1 Sarton, Geo., “Introduction to the History of Science,” vol. I, p. 725. 
a Vitalis, Orderic, “Hist. Eccl.” lib. Ill, A. D. 1141 — Bohn Transl. by T. Fores- 
ter, 1 8-47. 

8 Capparoni, Pietro, “Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti,” Welcome His- 
torical Museum Series, 1922. 

‘ Haeser, Heinrich, “O rundriss der Gesrhichte der Medicin,” 1884. 

Daremberg, Charles Victor, “L’lt'cole de Salerne;’ vol. V, 1861. 

Vitalis, Orderic, op. cit., vol. I, p. 423, vol. 4, p. 27, Bohn edition. 

Patients Visiting a Salerno Physician, 12th Century. 

They carry money , trine flasks, etc. The parrot was the sign of the 
physician. (Harleian mss., British Museum.) 



have already referred, became the wife of Roger, Count of Sicily, and in 
other ways the family was very well connected and prominent in the 
eleventh century. Orderic lived in the neighborhood of Rudolph’s home 
and knew the family intimately. He says that Rudolph had sown many 
wild oats in his youth, and by his evil deeds had justly earned the title 
Mala Corona. He was, however, a studious boy, and in the schools of 
Italy and France he had “learned the secrets of science and astronomy 
with signal success as well as grammar and dialectics and music.” “The 
natives of Norman France,” says Orderic, “still relate many things which 
appear to us wonderful concerning his experiments in cases of disease 
and accidents such as they themselves witnessed or heard from their 
parents, to whom he was well known from his long residence among 
them.” Migne, quoting Orderic, 1 says of Rudolph, “Physicae, quosque 
scientiam tam copiose habuit ut in urbe Psalernitana, ubi maximae medi- 
corum scholae ab antiquo habentur, neminem in medicinal! arte, praeter 
quondam sapientem rnatronam sibi parent inveniret.” This was in the 
year 1059, and Orderic adds that the school was the largest of ancient 
times. You will note also his “sapientem rnatronam.” Sarton 2 agrees 
that Rudolph, or Raoul, Malecouronne was the most important phy- 
sician in western France during this century, and that he was a student 
at Salerno between 1040 and 1059, where there was only one teacher 
wise enough to answer his questions, and she a woman. It is probable 
that the woman referred to was Trotula, as she was a member of the 
faculty at that time. Denifle a says that there were several women on the 
faculty at Salerno in the eleventh century, but that none was equal to 
Trotula until a later date. It is a pity that Rudolph did not tell us her 
name or the subject of their debate; but he was not a writer. 4 5 Rudolph 
practiced medicine for several years but his fame remained local. 3 

1 Migne, “Patrologia Latina vol. 188, Book III, cliap. XI, p. 259. 

2 Sarton, op. cit., p. 770. 

3 Denifle, Heinrich S., “Die Universitaten des Mittelalters bis 1400, 1885. 

* Guizot, M., “Memo ires relatifs a V Histoire de France,” vol. II, p. 64, 1825. 

5 It is interesting to find that Orderic himself owned as many as one hundred 
and thirty manuscripts, including a copy of the “Aphorisms of Hippocrates,’’ 
but he believed more in Divine Providence than in human help in time of sick- 




O one who knows the eleventh century it is not surprising to find 

Orderic Vitalis asserting that faith in holy relics is a necessary part 
of medical treatment, for he believed in the efficacy of nothing that did 
not have the sanction of the Church ; but he also confessed that the 
Church had been obliged to sanction many pagan books on medicine 
because they had been proved to be good. To students, however, the 
fear of being considered a heretic was a hindrance. Fortunately the 
school at Salerno was evidently considered to be a Christian school 
even though it was not under the control of the Church, and even 
though, as was the case in 1050, there were six hundred Jews enrolled, 
and probably as many Arabs. Furthermore, as has been noted, their 
text-books were, in the main, copies of Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen, 
all pagan writers. 

Fortunately, also, practical work and bed-side instruction were a 
part of the Salerno curriculum, students being obliged to visit patients 
twice a day, and once bv night, if necessary, and to give free advice to 
the poor. Carnoly 1 says that the Jews at Salerno were the best teachers, 
although “they despised dissection and ignored surgery and scientific 
investigations.” Being good translators, they followed Hippocrates and 
Galen to the letter in their treatment of patients. All rabbis were 
obliged to study medicine, this giving them additional prestige. The 
Arabs, on the other hand, had discovered many new remedies, and were 
much interested in scientific experiments with medicinal plants. That 
they were accustomed to women doctors is proved by the fact that sick or 
pregnant Moslem women were not permitted treatment by men doctors. 
Buck 2 says, however, that the women who attended the wives of the 
Caliphs were much more skilled than the average midwife, evidently 
making a distinction between obstetricians and “monthly nurses.” 

There was an early tradition that the school of Salerno was founded 
by a Greek, a Latin, a Hebrew', and an Arab. The Singers 3 suggest 
that tli is tradition may have been founded on the general mixture of 
races which met there. De Renzi says that, of fifteen names on the 
faculty list in the twelfth century, nine were ecclesiastics, one was a 

1 Carnoly, E., "Histoire des Mddicina Juifs,” 1844. 

2 Buck, Albert, “The Growth of Medicine from the Earliest Times to about 
1800,” 1917. 

3 Singer, Charles and Dorothea, “Origin of the School of Salerno,” Essay on 
the History of Medicine, presented to Karl Sudhoff, 1924. 


I 2 I 

Jew, and five were women or Arabs or laymen. The Arabic influence 
was then paramount; but quacks and charlatans crowded the halls, so 
that the prestige of the school had dwindled. Its best teachers had by 
then gone to other schools founded on Salerno as a model. We know, 
however, the names of three hundred and forty of its teachers, who were 
active during the thousand years of its existence. Among them, as we 
shall see, were several women besides Trotula. In later years its library 
was scattered, the famous buildings were allowed to fall in ruin, and 
rival schools at Naples, Bologna and Montpellier became more popular 
because better equipped. Finally, in 1811, bv decree of Napoleon, the 
school ceased to exist. 

Because it took the works of Hippocrates as the basis of its in- 
struction, the Salerno school was sometimes known as the Collegium 
Hippocraticum, and the city as the Civitas Hippocratica . 1 All teachers 
were allowed to teach in whatever language they chose. Latin was 
generally used. Even the Arabs, who came from the Nestorian school 
in Persia, probably taught in Latin, as did most of the others, including 
Trotula, who undoubtedly had been accustomed to talk Latin of the 
easy mediaeval type. Baas calls her “one of the aerztinnen who wrote 
on the sufferings of women before, during, and after child-birth.” We 
can infer, from the various nationalities represented there, that, unless 
the students had fresh note-books and understood some universal method 
of abbreviation, their notes of lectures in Latin, or some other language, 
may have been very inaccurate and puzzling to read. Free interpre- 
tations or translations, careless penmanship, lack of clean and good-sized 
sheets of parchment must have led to the greatest blunders in the 
writing of their texts. 

It is difficult for us to realize what life would be without printed 
books, but, when we consider the task of writing each page with a poor 
kind of pen or a paint brush on a surface which may have been previously 
used and insufficiently cleaned, and in a language but vaguely under- 
stood, and about a subject that is more or less technical, we can see how 
easily errors of all kinds might be amassed. What, for instance, could a 
pious monk understand of the chapters on the surgery of the perineum 
as given by Trotula to her pupils? If he were accustomed to Biblical 
language only, and presumably ignorant of all medical terms, as well as 
out of touch with all women from childhood, it would be a marvel if he 
copied the text accurately, even if he understood Latin grammar and 

4 Baas, Joh. Hermann, “Grundriss der Geschichte der Medicin,” 1876, p. 207. 



could write Latin correctly and rapidly. It is therefore not strange 
that proper names were omitted or misspelled, or the text changed to 
suit the comprehension of the copyist or student at a lecture. Such, 
however, was the material used at the early school at Salerno. Evi- 
dently, along with tradition, superstition, and astrology, much common 
sense guided the teachers in their work, or the school could not have 
become so justly famous. The students, like the teachers, came from all 
over the known world to this coeducational school. They may have 
memorized the lectures, or borrowed one another’s book, or consigned 
to their own, with journalistic freedom, all the misunderstandings and 
loose interpretations of which students are capable, omitting proper 
names and dates as quite superfluous. Even with imperfections, how- 
ever, these old note books would be valuable to us today; but, when 
vellum and paper were scarce and palimpsests common, it is no wonder 
that such manuscripts were not preserved. The literary remains of the 
Salerno school are, unfortunately, extremely fragmentary. De Renzi , 1 
the great collector and exponent of them, found several manuscripts of 
the early Salernitan period , 2 and of Monte Cassino, in various libraries 
of Europe, some of them badly mutilated, and those of Trotula evidently 
entirely lacking in parts. Medical students and teachers were dis- 
tinguished by their special gowns, those of the men and women being near- 
ly alike . 3 When Robert Guiscard lived in Salerno, however, any men or 
women, Jews, Arabs, or Christians, who had a smattering of medical 
knowledge, either of herbs or of blood-letting, might wear the significant 
mantle, and set themselves up as apothecaries, or urine testers, or teach- 
ers, or healers, and draw a crowd of students and patients, as is done in 
Morocco today. Of the diseases they were called upon to treat Orderic 
Vital is gives an account, although he tried to limit himself to those of 
royalty. He tells us that deaths were mainly due to dysentery, diarrhoea, 
and leprosy. One king died from eating a poisoned apple given him by 
his wife, another died from the wound of a poisoned arrow, many un- 
wittingly drank poisoned wine, while thousands of their subjects died 

1 De Renzi, Salvatore, “Collcrt io Snlernitana," Five Volumes, 1852-1859. 

2 The oldest medical codex of Monte Cassino yet discovered dates from the 
ninth century, and the second is from the tenth. In the first there is a collec- 
tion of prescriptions copied from various authors, followed by a treatise on 
the diseases of women, one also on fevers, two excerpts from Hippocrates, and 
several articles on diet, baths, exercise, etc. In a later codex, De Renzi found 
references to the writings of Gariopontus and Trotula, and one bearing the 
stamp of Constantine, the African, whom Singer considers the greatest plag- 
iarist of all time, but yet a Salernitan of the eleventh century. 

3 Giascosa, Piero, “Magistri Salernitcnii,’' nondum editi, 1901. 

A Woman Apothecary (or Doctor) and a King. 

Possibly a representation of Trotula and Robert of Normandy, 11th 
Century, as the background shows the castle, cathedral and medical school 
at Salerno. ( Courtesy of Charles and Dorothea Singer). 



from the plague or from injuries. This gives us some idea of the 
medical situation as it existed in the western world during the eleventh 

MONG the earliest clerical Greeks who were teachers in the 

medical school at the beginning of the eleventh century was the 
archbishop Alphanus, who wrote a book on the four humors, and called 
it the “Speculum Hominis.” Singer says that this was a rough trans- 
lation from Nemesius, of the fourth century, on the nature of man — 
the first medical book translated anonymously at Monte Cassino. There 
were two archbishops named Alphaneus, or Alphanus, at Salerno ; and 
their writings are often confused. Cumston, 1 quoting Leo of Ostia, 
tells us that Desiderius of Monte Cassino went down to Salerno to con- 
sult Alphanus II, who died in the odor of sanctity in 1085, “prudentissi- 
rnus et nobilissimus clericus,” and Peter the Deacon says that it was he 
who wrote the “Speculum.” However, to one or the other was due the 
founding of a new monastic library. 

Among the other early Greek teachers at Salerno were Damnastes, 
who abbreviated the work of Soranus and Cleopatra on gynecology; a 
Dioscorides of Lombardy, who patched and cribbed a book on medicinal 
herbs; and Bishop Theobald, who wrote a monumental work in verse, 
a sort of rhymed Bestiary taken from the twelve beasts of the Apocalypse, 
but including also sirens, centaurs, stags, and lions, with all their spiritual 
meanings, as well as all sorts of other animals from spiders to the 
great whale. 

Salerno’s text-book on food and diet was written by Simeon Seth, a 
Byzantine encyclopaedist, who used Persian, Indian, and Arabic sources. 
It mentions for the first time camphor, musk, cloves and nutmeg. 2 Don- 
nolo, a Jew called the “little master,” translated into Hebrew whatever 
medical manuscripts the Jewish students needed; and, about a century 
later, Constantinus Africanus (died at Monte Cassino in 1087) trans- 
lated medical works from Greek and Arabic into Latin, with the help 
of a corps of assistants, among whom was John the Saracen, the author 

1 Cumston, Charles Greene, “Introduction to the History of Medicine ... to the 
End of the Eighteenth Century, 1926, p. 214. 

2 In this book we stumble upon a superstition still existing in many parts of 
the world today, that violet plants or roots, combined with caustic pastes and 
deodorants, are a cure for cancer. 




of a book on the urine and one on fevers. 1 Both were propagandists for 
Arabic medicine. 

Obviously almost every known medical subject had been taught at 
Salerno even before its reorganization in the middle of the eleventh 
century, when, among its new faculty, were John Platearius, and his wife 
Trotula, and their son John, all three of whom worked on a new en- 
cyclopaedia of medicine called the Practica Brevis. Evidently they were 
all members of the staff, Trotula being called Magistra Medicinae, the 
author also of a famous work on obstetrics and gynecology. John, the 
younger, wrote a book on the urine, the Regulae Urinarum. Another 
membei of the first faculty was Gariopontus (died about 1050), who 
seems to have lost something of his identity in a maze of copyists and fol- 
lowers. Capparoni suggests that he was a German called Guarim- 
pontus; Haesar calls him a Lombard; Singer questions whether or not 
he may have been actually Peter Damianus, or Peter the Deacon, who 
died in 1087; and Sarton suggests, on the other hand, that this Peter, or 
Petrocellus, was merely the colleague and assistant of Gariopontus, who 
helped collate and compile the "Passionarius Galeni ” on internal medicine 
from Greek, Latin and Byzantine sources. De Renzi found two docu- 
ments, one of 1051, the other of 1079, which mention “Guarimpoto” as 
probably the old and well-known Salernitan writer referred to by Peter 
Damianus as the author of the " Passionarius Peter describes himself 
as a mere scribe, and a “doctor” or teacher at Salerno. 2 

Nicolaus of Salerno was perhaps Dean, or Praepositus, of the school 
in those days, or possibly later. He has been unfortunately confused 
with Albucasim, an Arab who died in Cordova in 1009, because each 
compiled an “ Antidotarium’' showing many Arabic influences. One or the 
other " Antidotarium " was used anonymously as a materia medica at the 
school for centuries. 3 Sarton places Nicolaus in the twelfth century, along 

1 Sarton, op. eit., p. 651, says of Donnolo and others like him, that they acted 

as a ferment amidst the mixed population of south Italian harbors. “Probably 
to them is due the birth of the school of Salerno, the earliest original school of 
medicine in Christian Europe.” 

3 Both Peter and Gariopontus subscribed to the popular theory that the mar- 
row of a tooth came from the brain, and was connected with the lung. This 
precluded the extraction of a tooth for fear of injuring the other organs. 
If practitioners had obeyed Galen, they would have tried to ascertain the 
correctness of such a theory, not merely to make con jecture about it. 

3 Osier says that this (?) "Antidotarium” was one of the earliest books to be 
translated into Latin, and the earliest complete and dated medical book ever 
printed (1472), adding that Nicolaus had copied his material from Paul of 
Acgina, Hippocrates, Galen, and Alexander of Tralles, but with Arabic ad- 
ditions. The author tells 11 s that his reason for giving so long a list of remedies 
was in order that his followers might substitute a “ quid pro quo," as many of 
his students wished to do. 



with several members of the Platearius family; but it would seem better to 
place him in the early eleventh, because Constantine, the African, appar- 
ently copied many remedies from Nicolaus (or Albucasim). Nicaise and 
M azza, on the other hand, place Nicolaus in the early tenth century. 1 

As for Constantinus Africanus, the best known of all the Salernitan 
school of writers, it may be noted briefly that he was born in Carthage 
in 1015, travelled widely, became secretary to Robert Guiscard in 
Salerno, retired to Monte Cassino with his collections of manuscripts for 
translation, and died there in 1087. Singer says of him, “In the process 
of falsification of editorship. . . .the early Salernitans were triHers in the 
art of forgery. Their achievements are insignificant compared with the 
master hand of Constantine.” Meyerhof calls him a renegade Moor from 
Carthage. 2 Peter the Deacon tells us, on the other hand, that Con- 
stantine was thoroughly learned in the physic of the Chaldeans, Arabs, 
Persians and Saracens, and that he had studied in India, Ethiopia, and 
Egypt. When he returned to Carthage, after thirty-nine years of wan- 
dering, his compatriots sought to kill him as a heretic; but he was able to 
escape to Salerno, where he lived a gay life at the court of Robert. 
Singer says that Constantine knew little Latin and less medicine, drawing 
mainly from Isaac Judaeus and other Jewish and Arabic predecessors. 
Neuburger adds that he owed much to Haly Abbas, Joannitius Honein 3 
and other Arabs. There is in the British Museum a little volume of 
Joannitius, printed in the sixteenth century in black Gothic letters with 
red capitals and bound with Avicenna, on fevers, Theophilus on the 
urine, and a few extracts from Galen. This is probably a copy of one 
of the text-books of a Salerno student of the eleventh century. 

As for the books written by the Platearius family for their students, 4 
the "Practica Brevis” and the “ Circa Inst mis ” — texts on the diagnosis 
and treatment of 'disease — these, we know, were studied with care, and 
their teachings practically applied, 5 while the books on gynecology and ob- 
stetrics compiled by Trotula, if not always copied with her name, con- 

1 Nicaise, E., “La Grande Chirurgie de Guy de Chauliac,” 1303, Paris, 1890. 

2 Meyerhof, Max, Isis, vol. XII, 1929, p. 119. 

3 The book of Joannitius Honein, a Persian Nestorian who lived A.D. S09- 
877, was one of the most important text-books of the Middle Ages. It was 
called the “Ysogoge” or “Articella Galeni,” and was written in Arabic for the 
students of his own school. His introduction to Galen’s “Ars Parva” was in- 
corporated as an integral part of Constantine’s “Articella.” 

4 Dorveaux, Paid, “Lei livre des simples medecines de Platearius, Circa In- 
stalls” (From a manuscript of the XIII Century) 1913. 

5 Baccius, Henricus, “De Scriptori Reg. Napol., p. 303. 


1 26 

tinned to be consulted by women doctors anil midwives for seven hundred 
years. Unfortunately, as the years passed, these works became confused 
with others; and, as copyists grew careless with the names of authors, 
the work of Johannes Platcarius became known under the name of an 
Arab, Serapion, while 1 rotula’s were supposed to have been written by 
a certain Eros, or Erotian, of early Christian times. Thus history 
almost obliterated the identity of Trotula and her husband while pre- 
serving their books. 

Before the end of the twelfth century there were many other writ- 
ers and teachers at Salerno; but none was as important as those of the 
eleventh century, for the best of the students had been drawn to the 
newer medical schools in Bologna, Montpellier, and Naples. Two 
descendants of the famous Platearii, Roger and Roland, became the 
most important surgeons of their time, taking a stand for extreme clean- 
liness, and for union of the edges of a wound by first intention, thus 
becoming the forerunners of Guy de Chauliac, the great surgeon of the 
fourteenth century. 

Several medical historians have referred to the “famous quartette of 
Salerno in the eleventh century.” To Gurlt 1 they are: Gariopontus, who 
wrote the " Passionarius” ; Peter the Deacon, who assisted him and wrote 
a Practica ; I rotula, who wrote a treatise on diseases of women com- 
piled from Cleopatra, Soranus and Hippocrates; while the fourth seems 
to have been Roger, the surgeon. Other historians have named Con- 
stantine or Platcarius or Cophon the anatomist. Still others bring in 
the Arabs, Avicenna and Averrhoes, along with Arnold of Villanova, to 
whom is given the credit of turning the great Salerno encyclopedia of 
medicine into rhyme. From time to time, new material was being incor- 
porated into the best of the old, or being reinterpreted in new terms to 
meet new student needs. I his sort of plagiarizing was condoned by 
John Stuart Mill, as being an effort to bring the best of early thought to 
bear upon modern problems. In the last analysis, he claimed, nothing 
really new and valuable is spun from the author’s personality like the 
web of a spider from its own interior. 

At any rate, for good and sufficient reasons, this coeducational school 
at Salerno was justly famous for two hundred years. Roger the Norman 
gave it a large grant of land and revenues, and, in order to weed out 
impostors, Frederic II (1194-1250) 2 in 1240 established a regis- 

1 Gurlt, Ernst, “Geschichte der Chirurgie und ihrer Auniibuvg,” 1898. 

3 Frederick II was one of the Holy Homan Emperors, King of Sicily and 



try for physicians who had passed certain examinations there. Darem- 
berg says that the title “doctor,” meaning physician, was first used legally 
at Salerno, in 1180, and was quoted by Roger of Parma. In the four- 
teenth century a new king, named Robert, enlarged the curriculum; and 
still later two queens, Joanna I and Joanna II, insisted upon making the 
courses more difficult in order to raise the standing of the graduates. 

Many famous scholars besides Rudolph Mala Corona made pil- 
grimages to Salerno in the eleventh century, among them Lanfranc 
( 1005-1089), a monk of the monastery of Bee in France, and later Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury. He took the hospitals of this civitas Hippocratica 
as the model of his hospital at Canterbury, the first general hospital to be 
built in England. It is interesting to find that Lanfranc was so annoyed 
by the errors made by the monks in the copies of his works that he always 
insisted on revising each page personally. His successor, Anselm, who 
died in 1109, was also an interested visitor at Salerno; and so was Peter 
the Lombard (died 1164), the renowned logician who wmndered what 
physicial operations went on in Paradise, and how many angels could 
stand on the point of a needle. In the following centuries, St. Thomas 
Aquinas (1227-1274), and Michael Scot (died in or before 1235), 
the astrologer, both studied at Salerno. It was Aquinas who said that 
in his time there were four famous colleges in Europe: Paris for science, 
Salerno for medicine, Bologna for law, and Lyons for philosophy and 
grammar. In the fourteenth century Petrarch, during a sojourn in 
Salerno in 1330, praised its medical school in the highest terms, writing,. 
“Fuisse hie medicinae fontem fama est.” 

Finally, in the seventeenth century, Mazza, a native of Salerno, 1 
wrote a history of the town, in which he said that in every century 
famous students had been drawn to its medical school : adding significant- 
ly that, among all the ancient teachers, the most important were women! 


t' ORTUNATELY, we know the name of the most noted of the 
medical women at Salerno in the eleventh century, Trotula (also 
Trotta, Trocta, and many other forms of the name). 2 In the old 

1 Mazza, Antonio, “Historium Epitome de Rebus Salernitanis,” 1681, p. 128. 
See also Tiraquellus, “De Nobilitate,” 1566, Book II, Chap. 12. 

2 Speaking of Trotula’s family history, Haeser says, p. 119: “Johannes Pla- 
tearius I. ist der begriinder einer beriihmten Salernitanis chen Familie von 
Aerzten; — Trotula, vielleicht seine Gattin, ist die alteste und beriihmeste der 
medicinischen Lehrerinnen von Salerno. Sie verfasste ein die ganze Medicin 
abhandelndes Compendium, von welchem die von den Krankheiten der Frauen 
handelnden Abschnitte auf uns gekommen sind.” 



obituary lists of the great cathedral the names Trotta and Trocta occur 
frequently; and, among the number, was one who died in 1085 and 
another in 1097, but no marks of identification are given of either. 
Since, however, the identity and even the actual existence of Trotta, or 
Trotula, the author of “The Trotula maior and minor/’ has been doubted 
by some historians, her story must be told in considerable detail in order 
to prove that she was a very real person of the eleventh century, a magis- 
tra medicinae, and not an ordinary midwife, or even a mythical person, 
as has been suggested ; and that the book which was for centuries attri- 
buted to her was authentic, and not written by a man. 

Henricus Baccio, or Baccius, of Naples tells us that she was called 
Trottola di Ruggiero (that is, a Roger by birth), and De Renzi adds 
that she was the wife of John Platearius the Elder. Their son, Matteo, 
spoke of her as his “learned mother, Trocta,” and ‘‘mater magistra 
Platearii,” and of his father as Johannes, “who with her help wrote a 
book on the cure of disease” ; and Matteo also said proudly that his 
mother had looked after sick women as a “magistra/’ not as an “empiric.” 
In 1097 a certain Ruggiero, lord of the castle of Montuori, 1 left a dona- 
tion for his noble mother, Trotta, who may have died that same year. 
By her contemporaries, Trotula was known as the “Magistra,” “Uxor 
Platearii,” “Mulier Sapiens,” “Trotta” or “Trocta.” By her followers 
who quoted from her writings, she was called Tortolo, Trocula, Tuenda, 
Trotta, Trotula, Trocta, Trottus, trott’, tt’, Truta, Trutella, Trorula, 
Tortula, Eros Juliae, Erotian, “one” of the women of Salerno; and 
lastly, in derision by a few modern writers, she has been dubbed Old 
Dame Trot. Some of these names we will discuss later, especially the 
last; but here it may be said that her contemporary relative, Cophon, the 
anatomist, while lecturing in France, mentioned her with pride. He said 
that physicians should use the remedies that were praised at Salerno, 
especially those of Trotula, to which some apparently stupid copyist added 
“one of the Saracenic women.” John of Rhodes, at the same time, did her 
the honor of copying her text almost verbatim, but anonymously. In 1916 
Dr. Capparoni 2 discovered certain old manuscripts in Salerno, among 

1 Garufi, C. A., "Fond per la storia d’ltalia. Necrologie del Liber Confralrum 
de S. Matteo di Salerno,” 1922. 

2 “Trotula de Ruggiero, gentil Donna de Salerno, lease Medicinu nella sua, 
Patria e diede alle stain pe un’opera, “De Morbis Mulierum” . . . che retrovasi 
nella studio del Sir/. Dura di Diano, donde e stata rubbata, che perd non posso 
soggiungere Vanno dell’ im pressione ne dello stampatore, viene citata e con- 
11 nine rata tra le Donne lllustre, dall’ ernditissimo Tiraquello Welcome His- 
torical Medical Museum, London, Research Studies in Medical History, No. 2, 
Magistri Salernitani Nondu-m Cogniti. Peter Capparoni, who wrote these 
lines, was Secretary of the Sanitary Dept, of the Historical Society of Italy, 



them a sort of “Who’s Who” of the famous school ; and here and there 
he found the names of Gariopontus, Trota, Trocta, Roger, Roland, and 
William of Salicet, most of them authors whose books were known by 
their own names, the “Trotula,” the “ Rogerina,” the “ Rolandina,” etc. 
Sarton tells us that it was the fashion in the Middle Ages to be called 
by nicknames, or different names, in each language; and, as we have 
already seen, copyists made such bad work with names that the fact that 
Trotula’s name appears in various texts under all sorts of variant forms 
is no reason whatever to doubt her existence — quite the reverse. Nor 
have those who call her by the masculine form of her name, Trottus, 
any real authority for so doing. There was a Trottus in the Middle 
Ages, whom we know as an author of theological works, having in them 
a little medical addition on the care of the eyes, but his style and language 
differ markedly from Trotula’s. Among the other forms of her name 
found in various texts is “Tortula,” occurring in Bernard of 
Provins, who, from 1150 to 1160, was one of the teachers at Salerno, 
and must have known people who had known her personally. He 
incorporated so much of her writings with his own that it is now diffi- 
cult to distinguish the two. A hundred years later, Peter of Spain, who 
in 1276 became Pope John XXI, wrote his “Thesaurus Pauperurn,” a 
handbook of diseases and remedies, in which Trotula is mentioned as 
“Trocula” 1 five times, with quotations from her famous prescriptions. 
The “Thesaurus Pauperurn” was printed in 1530. The copy in the 
British Museum is a little, worm-eaten volume of some sixty pages in 
fine print. Its Latin is difficult in places because of abundant abbrevia- 
tions; but there is no trouble in reading the proper names of the writer’s 
authorities, and along with Dioscorides, Avicenna, Galen, Isaac, the 
“Circa Instans” of Matthias Platearius, etc., etc. he repeatedly cites 
“Trocula.” 2 This author always indicated his own approval of a 
remedy by following his quotation by “Hoc ego,” and this “Hoc ego” 
was added to each of “Trocula’s” prescriptions. Obviously she was 
well known to him by reputation. 

Peter is more of an endocrinologist, and much more of a believer in 
charms and magic than she. He tells us, however (p. 36) that Trotula’s 

1 In medieval manuscripts, t is easily confused with c; hence Trocula for 
Trotula. See also Hurd-Mead, Kate C., Isis, vol. XIV, 2, 1930, and Hurd- 
Mead, “Trotula, eine Salerner Arztin,” Die Arztin, Berlin, Jan. 1931. 

2 Roger of Salerno was probably a grandson of Trotula. Sarton, (vol. II, 
p. 435), says that his “Practica Chirurgiae” is the earliest surgical treatise of 
the Christian West; he adopted many of Trotula’s operative teachings as well 
as those of Constantine. See DeRenzi, vol. 2, pp. 426-496. 



treatment for curing sterility is to eat the powdered testicles of a boar; 
but that, to ensure sterility, the patient must carry in her pocket the dried 
uterus of a goat. He quotes freely from her prescriptions for the com- 
plexion. From that “arch plagiarist, Constantine the African” (Singer), 
he takes Trotula’s treatment of suppressed menstruation by hot drinks, 
by warm poultices to the abdomen, and by fumigations to the nose and 
vulva. He approves by his "Hoc ego” of her use of suppositories of 
plantain leaves, red dog-berries, sanguinaria and oak galls for profuse 
menstruation, and of her mallow poultices for tumors of the breast 
(taken by her from Dioscorides) . 

I here has been found a manuscript dating from the thirteenth 
century, which is a French translation of Trotula’s book on gynecology, 
with its prologue almost verbatim. This is perhaps taken from a copy 
made by the nun Guta, mentioned by Bernard of Provins, and said by 
Hamilton 1 to be the basis of many later editions. In the fourteenth 
century there are many evidences of the popularity of Trotula’s writings. 
Among the books mentioned by Chaucer in the “Prologue” to the “Wyf 
of Bath’s Tale 2 we find Trotula; and indirectly we may surmise that 
the Doctor of Physic also had one of her books, for Chaucer says of him, 
“Well knew he the old Esculapius,” to which Manly adds in a note 
(p. 526), “Even in the case of the ‘old Esculapius’ the allusion is prob- 
ably.... to ‘Esculapii tie Morborum .... Originc,’ which, with the 
‘Trotulae curandarum aegritudinum mulierum . . .lib.,’ formed the 
‘Experimentarius Medicinae We find, also in the “Prologue” to the 
“Wyf of Bath,” that, among the books which her fifth husband read day 
and night, “whan he hadde levser and vacacion,” was a certain volume 
containing “Tertullan, Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,” etc., to which 
Manly adds a note (p. 582), “The Wyf of Bath was fairly familiar 
with the contents of her husband’s books. .. .Trotula was a famous 
woman, associated with the great medical school of Salerno.” Manly 
then refers us to Hamilton, who says that in most of the libraries her 
books are referred to as ‘‘Trotula Major” and ''Minor"' or as “The 
Trotta” and “The Trotula”; but that, as time went on, they were 
gathered into one volume, and somewhat abridged, although still fre- 
quently copied. 

That the copyists took great liberties with the works from which 
they quoted we have already seen. Choulant 1 says that at least one of the 

1 Hamilton, Geo. L., Modern Philosophy, Vol. IV, 1906-1907, p. 377. 

3 “Canterbury Tales,” by Geoffrey Chaucer, Introduction, Notes, and Glossary 
by John Matthews Manly, 1929, pp. 160, 293. 


13 1 

copies of Trotula was made by a woman doctor of the thirteenth century 
(may it have been the nun, Guta, of the twelfth?), who took the usual 
liberty with the original, adding several later Arabic remedies, and 
changing the style to suit her own times. Hamilton says that this version 
of Trotula was the one used by translators. Spitzner 1 2 says that such 
a French translation was made in the fourteenth century, and that in a 
pseudo-text of Albertus Magnus, the “Secreta Mulierum,” Trotula was 
highly praised: “ Premierement je vous di que une feme qui fu philosophe 
appelee Trotula, qui mout vesqui et fu moult belle en sa jeunece, de la 
quelle li phisicien qui riens sevent tiennent moult d’auctoritez et de boas' 
enseignemenz, nous dist une partie des natures aus femes,” etc. This 
reference shows that even at that time Trotula was considered an 

In James’s catalogue 3 of the manuscripts used in the libraries of 
Canterbury and Dover before the days of printing are listed many vol- 
umes of Trotula. Among the chained manuscripts in the Dover Priory 
(No. 347, p. 481), was a volume containing the “ Sirurgia Rolandi,” 
‘‘Tabula Platearii de herbis,” ‘‘Quid pro quo,” ‘‘Trotula maior” (begin- 
ning, as is usual, with ‘‘cum auctor universitatis Deus”), ‘‘Alphita vel 
sumonoma,” ‘‘Circa Instans ,” ‘‘Epistola albrici de herbis,” and the 
‘‘Thesaurus pauperum.” In No. 337 was a ‘‘Parvus Gyrardus ,” and in 
No. 355 a ‘‘Gyrardus magnus” (translations made by Gerard of Cre- 
mona, a famous writer), along with ‘‘Trotula maior” and other Salerni- 
tan writings. In the catalogue of the Abbey of St. Augustine at Canter- 
bury, James found several manuscripts of Constantinus in one of which 
(Fol. 85, pp. 334-335), were bound manuscripts of Soranus and of 
Cleopatra, the gynecologist. In Fol. 88, No. 1219, is ‘‘Trotula maior de 
curis mulierum.” Fol. 89, No. 1225 has “Trotula minor” and ‘‘Genecia 
Cleopatre et dialogus muscionis et est de officio obstetrices.” 

There were one hundred and two medical books in this library be- 
fore the fire of 1067 ; and, though in 1186 the library was burned again, 
it contained in 1539, when the monastery was suppressed, three thousand 
books, mostly manuscripts. If we look through James’s catalogue of 
the library of Christ Church, A.D. 1170, we find the titles of several 
Salernitan books. On page 56, No. 475, is a Breviary (No. Ill), bound 

1 Cboulant, Ludwig, “Jahrbuch f.d. deutsche Med., vol. Ill, p. 144. 

2 Spitzner, Hermann Rudolf, “Die salernitanische Gyndkologie and Geburts- 
hilfe unter deni Namen der Trotula,” Inaugural Dissertation, Leipzig, 1921, 
p. 38. 

3 James, Montague Rhodes, “Catalogue of the Ancient Libraries of Canter- 
bury and Dover,” 1903. 



jwith “Practica domine Trote ad provocanda menstrua.” In No. 447 
is the title Tractatus de ornatu mulierum, ascribed to Platearius rather 
than to its rightful author, Trotula, his wife. No. 495 contains Trotu- 
la’s treatment for dropsy and fever, taken from the " Genecie Cleopatrae 
ad Theodatum.” No. 496 is another book which Trotula used freely, 
the “Liber Galieni,” and containing also the gynecology of Soranus, all 
of whose methods she followed except his podalic version. In No. 51 1 
we find the “Summa de viciis matricis” which contains the familiar 
“Liber de aegritudinibus mulierum” and the “De curationibus mulierum” 
of Trotula. 

Spitzner 1 has given us the names of several Trotula manuscripts 
now in the libraries of France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and 
England. T he oldest yet discovered is one in a library at Breslau, 
probably of the twelfth century, although De Renzi speaks of its 
Latin as of the eleventh century, and its penmanship as in the 
Beneventan script of the tenth. This manuscript is a copy of the 
“Practica of Salerno” containing the “Trotulae mulieris Salernitanae 
de curis mulierum.” Other manuscripts in Breslau contain her “De 

1 Spitzner, Joe. cit., pp. 19-21, gives us the following incomplete list: 

Manuscripts of the thirteenth century: 

Brussels, Bib. Royal, 14339. De earn Trotula, beginning “Cum auctor” etc. 

Montpellier, No. 317. De cura Trotula, beginning “Cum auctor’’ etc. 

Cambrai, No. 916. De cura Trotula, beginning “Cum auctor ” etc. 

Oxford, No. 1427. De cura Trotula, beginning “Cum auctor ” etc. 

Leipzig, No. 1215, A.D. 1300. Trotula bonae matronae de aegritudinib, etc. 

Manuscripts of the fourteenth century: 

Breslau, Codex XXXI I. a. Liber de passionibus mulierum 

b. Trotula minor. 

Cambridge. Trotula, De passionib., beginning “Cum auctor” .. . 

Brussels, Nos. 14325 and 15486. Trotula, De passionib, beginning “Cum 
auctor’ . . . 

Munich, No. 570. Trotula, De passionib., beginning “Cum auctor” . . . 

Rouen, No. 981. Trotula, De passionib., beginning “Cum auctor’’... 

Carpentras, No. 320 (?). Fragment, Trotula, De passionib., beginning “Cum 
auctor . . . 

Breslau. Practica and De ornatu mulierum (III. F. 10). 

Manuscripts of the fifteenth century: 

Munich, Nos. 660 and 3875. De secretis mulierum secundum Trotulam. 

Vindob, No. 5388, A. D. 1444. De Mulierum aegritudinibus. 

Wolfenbiittel, No. 875. De Mulierum aegritudinibus. 

Baris, Bib. Nat. No. 1327. Du regime des dames pour leur agdier en leur 
maladie, etc. 

Baris, Bib. St. Genevieve, No. 1037. Fragment de tradition franqaise. 

Laon No. 418. e passionib. rwulier. 

Wiesbaden, No. 56. Trotula, et Amold-Villanova. “Xota, aliqua de Trotula 



mulieris passionibus ante , in, et post partum” ; and the University library 
there has several other Salernitan manuscripts. One, of the fifteenth 
century, is in clear cursive Latin ; and, besides Trotula, it has, bound 
with it, thirty other well known authors, including Constantine and 
Arnold of Villanova. In the Stadtbibliothek of Breslau, there is a 
manuscript (No. 291) of the fourteenth century, containing twenty- 
three pages, very closely written, in which Trotula is called Truta and 
Trutella, evidently through blunders of the transcriber. In a manuscript 
of the sixteenth century, also in the Stadtbibliothek, is a German transla- 
tion in which she is called Trorula. In this copy appears a portrait of 
Trotula, as a teacher holding a long white scroll and standing in a 
pulpit. In another picture three students are facing her as she lectures, 
dressed in a long blue robe with a handkerchief folded over her brown 
hair. In this manuscript the copyist has repeated several times “Explicit 
Trotula cum Trota ’’ and finally, “Explicit Trotula, Amen.” These 
manuscripts vary so little from each other that it is impossible to doubt 
that they are authentic copies of still older manuscripts. 

The Vienna Bibliothek des Pallavicinischen Palastes, the national 
library, has, among its 30,000 manuscripts, a codex (No. 5,388), in 
which we find: “Explicit Trotula de aegritudinibus mulierum et earum 
curis’’ and the signature “trotula scripium.” This copy begins, as do 
all the others, with the sentence: “Cum auctor universitatis deus” and 
is written in a nervous and trembling hand. Many headings of chapters 
begin: “Sunt quaedam mulieres qui,” etc. In the same library (Codex 
11,168), is a German translation of 1570, beginning: “Hie heben sick 
an die Capittel uber die Bucher Trotula, Macrobi, Gilbertini,” etc. This 
book was re-translated in 1590 by Doctor Hardtlieb for a woman who 
owned the original. It has seventy chapters, and is dedicated to the then 
ruling prince. 

Several Trotula manuscripts are to be found in Paris 1 . In the 
Bibliotheque Nationale, Nos. 6,964 and 705 are of the thirteenth and 
fourteenth centuries. The first is the “Summa quae dicitur Trotula,” 
and the second contains her surgical teachings as explained, or copied, by 
her grandson, Roger, the surgeon of Salerno. In another Codex in this 
library, De Renzi found a copy of the “Liber passionibus mulierum 
secundum Trotulam,” bound with a book on practice by Bernard Gordon, 
and the “Synonyms” of Nicolaus. This probably dates from the early 
part of the fourteenth century. Another (No. 8,654), is in the same 

1 These seem to differ from those on Spitzner's list. 



handwriting, and begins: Trotu/a rnaior quaedam sunt mulieres in 

utihs ad conceptionem /' etc. The authorities quoted in her text all lived 
before the twelfth century, and may have been her friends, or have been 
quoted from her own text-books. 

finally, in the British Museum there is a little old volume of 227 
pages of manuscript, about 4V2 x 7 inches, worm-holed and dingy, with 
interlineations and underlinings in red, and with notes on the side in a 
different hand and written with a different kind of ink. Page 169 be- 
gins: Incipit le lev. trotule & Secretis mulicr.” Another page ( 1 73 

re\.) is crossed out, to indicate that it was wrongly copied. The writing 
of this volume is somewhat scrawling and difficult to read; but, begin- 
ning with p. 174, there are several chapters by Cophon, also interlined 
and criss-crossed by some former owner, and with here and there a few 
words in English. The last chapter has illustrations showing the various 
colors of urine in flasks, the typical bottles that always were sent to the 
physician for diagnosis. The binding of this old volume is loose, and 
the pages are dog-eared and were mended clumsily hundreds of years 
ago. Of the many other Salernitan manuscripts in the libraries of Great 
Britain, mention should be made of one in the British Museum (Sloane 
3,525), because it confuses Trotula and Eros, which, as we shall see, 
was often done in the printed editions of her work. In this manuscript 
we find, Trolta vel potius 1 rotula, Fabricius haec liabet Trotula, quae 
et Erotis dicitur.” 

In short, we may say without fear of contradiction that, for nearly 
five hundred years after Trotula’s death, her writings were highly prized, 
and had a wide distribution. From no source whatever up to this point 
does there appear to have been any doubt of her identity, or any question 
that she was the author of the works attributed to her. 


JN the fifteenth century the first printing presses were set up in Europe 
for the general multiplication of books by an easier method than by 
the pen or brush ; and no less than twenty editions of the " Regimen 
Sanitatis Salernitaturn” were printed before the year 1500. Some of 
these bore the title Plos Hledicinae Salcrni.” To the original compila- 
tion of this work, as we have seen, Trotula contributed largely. 

The first printing of her gynecology, the "De Fassionibus Muli- 
crurn, under her own name, came from the press of John Schottus, in 



1544. Schottus informs the reader that Trotula was a great and learned 
woman, “as may be seen from the twenty chapters of her book,” called 
the " Experimentarius Medicinae .” 1 

He expands the title in explanation of its contents: Trotulae 

■curandarum aegritudinurn mulierum, ante, in, & post parturn Lib. uni- 
cum, nusquam antes editurn. Quo foemini sexus accidentes morbi ac 
passiones, Infantum & puerorum a partu cura, Nutricis delectus, ac reli- 
qua ijsce adnata, Dispositiones utriq. Sexui contingentes, Experimenta 
denique variarum aegritudinurn ; cum quibusdam medicamentis decorar 
tione corporis inservientia, edocentur. Schottus refers to the editor of the 
book, George Kraut, as a most learned and skilful doctor; and he in 
turn characterizes Trotula in the following words: "Quae vero haec 
fuerit Trotula, ccrte non vulgaris, quinimus rnultae peritiae et eruditionis 
foemina.” The volume is a large folio, beautifully printed. It contains 
also the Materia Medica of Oribasius, Theodoric on diet, Aesculapius on 
the treatment of disease, and four books of Hildegard. 

The prologue to "In Trotulae Librum de Passionibus Mulierum” 
begins, as it did in the manuscripts, with the summary that, when God 
made men and women, He endowed both with reason, intellect, and 
freedom, but that to women He gave weaker bodies than to men, and 
cold and moist natures rather than hot and dry (this following Galen). 
The key to her first chapter is always, "Cum auctor universitatis Deus,” 

Ten years after this volume was published by Schottus, in 1554, 
an edition of Trotula was published in Venice by Victorius Faventinus. 2 
He also praises her and her work in the highest terms. He says that he 
bas personally tested many of her remedies, and that her work had never 
before been published (as Schottus had also said in 1544!) 3 . It contains 
ber chapters on parturition, the care of sick children, the choice of a 
nurse, the treatment of the complexion, etc. Faventinus calls particular 

1 Trotulae: “Experimentarius Medicinae,” etc., Argent. [Strasburg], apud 
Joannem Schottum, Anno Christi M.D.XLIV. 

2 Victorius Faventinus, “Empirical’ Venice, 1554. Faventinus says in the 
prologue, “Trotulae antiquissimi auctoris curandarum aegritudinurn muliebrium 
liber unicus.” 

3 Spitzner in his “Dissertation,” 1921, gives us this list of the printed editions 
of Trotula: Strasburg (Schottus) 1544; Venice, 1547; (Faventinus) 1554; Aldus, 
1554; Paris, 1550; Basel (Wolff), 1566 (ed. Th. Guarinum), (ed. Caspar Bau- 
hinus), 1568; Strasburg (Spach) 1597; a German translation by Sylvester 
Hardtlieb in 1590, together with “Secretis Mulierum” by Albertus Magnus (?) ; 
Leipzig (Kornniann— an edition based on the Aldine), 1778. Spitzner admits 
that in these various editions there is very little difference in the text and none 
in important points. 



attention to her use of fumigations to carry sweet odors to the nose, acid 
vapors to the vulva to cure prolapsus uteri, her use of spicy drinks and 
friction of the abdomen to mitigate the pains of labor, and the use of 
oil of savin to provoke labor, or to cause abortion in necessary cases. He 
was, however, more of an advocate of phlebotomy than Trotula, and 
for this and other reasons he says that he had added “certain inventions 
of his own, for the glory of the Venetian Republic and of the reigning 

Still another early printed book in which Trotula is mentioned and 
praised is the “De Nobilitate” of Tiraquellus 1 , published at Lyons in 
1566. Tiraquellus compiled a sort of “Who’s Who” of the great people 
of history. In his chapter on "Foerninae Medicae” he gives a list of 
medical women mentioned bv classical writers, and includes Trotula, 
whom he calls, “Trota, sive Trotula Salernitana, quae tnorbos mulierum 
et eorurn cur am scripsit.” “Tiraquellus justly praised Trotula,” says 
Toppius 2 , “Trotta quern alii Trotulam vacant, miris sane encomiis cele- 
branda ut notavit Tiraquellus He carefully differentiates women doc- 
tors from nurses and midwives; praising the “ parabolanue” who went 
daily to the hospitals visiting the sick and treating them “with kindness 
and with skill.” 

Notwithstanding all this weight of evidence in Trotula’s favor, the 
opposing argument should be at least summarized. In 1566, Wolphius, 
or Wolff, of Basel, published an edition of her gynecology in which for 
the first time we find a title page attributing the work to “ Eros quern 
inepte Trotulam nominant.” This title was copied by Wolff 3 in 1586 
in Gesner’s " Gynaecia,” with the addition “longe quam ante erncndatior.” 
In other words, through many editions of her works Trotula was 
Trotula: now abruptly, without any explanation, she is said to be a man, 
Eros Juliae, a freed-man of the time of Augustus. Melzi 4 assures us 
that this imputation was simply a gross error. He quotes Columella 

1 Tiraquellus, Andreas, “De Nobilitate,” Lyons, 1566. Tiraquellus was a 
great lawyer and jurist, a French Count of Poitou. Fie died 1556 at the age 
of eighty, leaving forty-five children by his two wives, one of whom published 
this hook after his death. 

2 Toppius, Nicolas, “Biblioteca Napolitnna 1678. 

3 Wolff, “E rot is Medici Liberti Juliae, Quern aliqui Trotulam inepte nominant, 
Muliebrium Liber,” Basel, 1566. 

* Melzi, Gaetano, “Dizionario di opere anonbne e pseudonime di scrittori 
italiani,” 1848, vol. Ill, p. 178. Columella suggests that Trotula dictated to a 
scribe, as was commonly done, and for this reason used the third person 
singular instead of the first. He adds that it was Tomaso Bartolino, in his 
‘Legendis Libris,” who first falsely attributed Trotula’s writings to Eros 
Juliae. (Cf. Tomaso Guarino.) 



who says, “Those who call Trotula a man are wrong”; and he cites 
her own autobiographical notes in proof that she had studied medicine 
to help other women, and at their urgent request. 1 But from the date 
of Wolff’s edition on there have been skeptics 2 , or “unchivalrous mytho- 
clasts,” who, as Osier puts it, 3 “have deprived the first woman professor 
of more than her chair,” by doubting her very existence. 

But, Wolff having bodily introduced this error — for error it almost 
certainly is — it was promptly copied, as all errors were copied in these 
days, by an extended succession of undiscriminating copyists and pub- 
lishers. None of them, apparently, noticed the obvious incongruity of 
copying Trotula’s text under the name of an Eros who is not once 
mentioned in its pages. Clearly an Eros of the Augustan Age could 
have had nothing to do with a school at Salerno in the Middle Ages. 
How could Eros know and quote the Saracenic and mediaeval Latin 
writers from whom Trotula quotes freely? But, despite the absurdity of 
this error, it went on. In the great folio of Israel Spach published in 
Strasburg in 1597 4 , “Eros” again appears (" Erotis Medici .... quam 
aliqui Trotulam inepte norninant”) . And somewhat later the phrase is 
copied again by George Schenkins, who elaborates it into “ Erotis Medici 
et Juliae Augustae libertatum volunt , et Trotu’ae corrupto vulgo nomine 
inscribitur.” Spach’s large volume of more than a thousand pages con- 
tains articles by twenty-one writers on the diseases of women, the articles 
by Ambroise Pare, Felix Platerius, and Ruffus being illustrated. Trot- 
ula’s article is evidently from one of her earlier manuscripts, and, as 

1 In the earliest manuscript (at Breslau) the pertinent text reads as follows: 
“Quapropter ego, miserauda illarum calamitate ( cioe delle donne), praesertim 
cujusdam matrouae instigatione, compulsa [Note the “cocpulsaf feminine 
gender, not “compulsns”\ incoepi diligentvus contemplare de negritudinibus 
quibus foemineus sexus saepissime molestatur.” Another text has “unimum 
mevm impulit” . . . ex libris Ypocratis, Galeni, etc. In the Oxford copy some- 
one has unadvisedly added the name of Constantine to her list of authors, but 
in the Leipzig text Cleopatra’s name is given in place of that of Constantine. 

As another hit of autobiography we have the famous sentence, “Trotula 
vocata fuit quasi magistra operis . . . et admirata fuit quam plurimum.” In the 
Oxford text fui appears instead of fuit. In the Leipzig text we have, “invitata 
fuit quasi magistra . . . et admirata fuit etc. It is to be noted that nowhere 
is the participle in the masculine gender, and that we also have magistra and 
admirata instead of their masculine equivalents 

2 “Essays on the History of Medicine,” presented to Karl Sudhoff, 1924. 
Article on the “Origin of the Medical School at Salerno,” by Charles and 
Dorothea Singer. 

3 Osier, William, “Bibliotheca Secunda.” No. 3899. 

* Spach, Israel, “Gynaeciorum, sive De Mulierum t u m Comviunibus, turn 
gravidarum , parientwm Libri” . . . Graecorum, Arabum, Latinorum, opera d 
studio, Israelis Spachii, Med. D., Profess. Argentinensis, 1597. 



usual, the prologue begins “Cum auctor universitatis Deus,” etc. The 
chapters follow her usual order. The famous mention of herself as 
Magistra 1 , in the third rather than the first person, is in chapter XX, 
on the treatment of post partum accidents. It is this chapter which 
caused many writers (cf. Spitzner) to argue that the book was not 
written by Trotula, but possibly by a student (docent), or someone else 
who chose to write a book for midwives, and name it for her. 

This is not to say there never was an Eros. There was, a freed- 
man of Julia, who lived in the time of Augustus. There was also an 
Erotian, who lived in the time of Nero. Eros wrote a book on gyne- 
cology. Erotian may have translated certain parts of Hippocrates, and 
compiled a lexicon for the use of students of Greek, which was much 
used before 1453, the date of the great influx of Greek refugees from 
Constantinople. It was not printed, however, until 1564, when it was 
retranslated by Bartolomaeus Eustachius from a copy in the library of 
Lorenzo de’ Medici. 2 In 1567 Erotian’s book was again translated by 
Herodianus Eustachius, and published in Strasburg. Here then are 
some further confusions of names: Eros and Erotian; Bartolomaeus 
(or Bartholinus) Eustachius and Herodianus Eustachius. Finally, these 

1 H. A. Kelly, in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, December, 1891, No. 18, 
says: “Israel Spachius’s ‘Gynecology’ was printed at Strasburg in 1597. Spa- 
chius was born in 1550, studied medicine and was professor of Strasburg, and 
died in 1610. His great book contains nothing of his own, but he preserved 
many valuable books which are now exceedingly rare in the originals. It is of 
great importance to the student of history.” 

Trotula mentions no one whom Eros, or Erotian, could possibly have known, 
even by reputation, save only Hippocrates. In the prologue to the printed 
“Erotis sive Trotulae . . . liber” Galen is mentioned once, and twice in Chap. I, 
and Galen, of course, lived only after the alleged Eros was long dead. In 
Chap. II mention is made of the prescriptions of a doctor who lived in France. 
In Chap. Ill Galen is quoted twice. In Chap. V he is quoted again, and twice 
in Chap VIII, and Paul of Aegina is also mentioned. Chap. X brings in both 
Galen and Hippocrates. Chap. XI refers to Galen, Priscian, and Paul. Chap. 
XIII quotes Galen on the position of the foetus in utero. Chap. XVII has 
"dixit enin Copho,” who, as we know, was one of the early Salernitan writers, 
a teacher of anatomy. Chap. XX is the famous one in which, as a consultant, 
Trotula is summoned as the ‘'magistra operis.” Chap. LXI concerns pre- 
scriptions of the “Mulieres Salernitanae ” and other women for offensive breath 
and sore eyes. Chap. LXII contains the Hermetic teachings regarding medi- 
cated baths to ward off old age, a very popular treatment of the “Regimen 
Sanitatis,” and Chap. LXIII gives us the prescriptions of Master Gerald for 
the eyes — so much praised by Trotula. In fact, from the very first words of 
the prologue, “Cum auctor universitatis Deus,” to its end, the Erotis could not 
possibly have been the work of any “Eros.” 

! Many of the manuscripts once at Canterbury were also bought by Lorenzo 
de’ Medici, and are now in the Laurentian Library in Florence. Among them 
is Trotula’s “In utilitatem rmilierum et pro decoratione earum, scilicet de facie 
et de vulva earum.” 



names were still further complicated by Fabricius 1 , who found an edition 
of Eros in the library of Hadrianus Junius in Nuremberg, and tells us 
that it was Bartolinus and Hadrianus Junius who started the theory 
that Trotula was a man named “Eros Juliae.” 

We probably now begin, however, to approach the solution of this 
problem. Having recently printed an edition of “Eros Juliae ” on 
women’s diseases, and perhaps a possible one of Erotian on the gyne- 
cological maxims of Hippocrates, and having a faded, or badly written, 
manuscript of Trotula in the old Beneventan script, and not being 
familiar with the name Trotula, Master Wolff’s type-setter got a “T” 
and an “E" interchanged, and the “tu” into sj.” Thus “Trot” became 
“Eros,” “Trotula” became “Erosjula,” and “Trosulae” became “Ero- 
sulae,” or “Eros Juliae,” which to the typesetter seemed correct, because 
it was a name which a book he had just been setting had made well 
known to him. This explanation may seem far-fetched ; it does not fit 
all the facts ; but it is ingenious, and even — to one familiar with mediaeval 
manuscripts and printing — fairly plausible. 

Another hypothesis as to Trotula’s identity is based on an extant 
manuscript which is signed “Trot,” or annotated “trot’,” “t°t’,” “tot’,” 
contractions which certain followers of Sudhoff have translated as 
“Trottus.” Hiersemann, a pupil of Sudhoff , 2 took this suggestion for 
his inaugural thesis; but he found no proof of the existence of any 
Salernitan named “Trottus,” and no evidence that a man named Trottus 
had written on gynecology. What the abbreviations “Trot’,” “trot’,” 
“tt’,” “t°t’,” and “t°” mean, it is difficult to imagine . 3 Of the seven 
authors of the “De aegritud. curatione,” who are listed by name in the 
Breslau manuscript, “trot’ ” is the only one not called “Mag”; Henschel 
and De Renzi have more reason to translate the “Trot” of this manu- 
script as “Trotula” than Hiersemann has to translate it “Trottus”; but 
none of them may interpret the word correctly. It may stand for 
“totius” or “tortius” ; it may be an outright cipher. But certainly 

1 Fabricius, Bibl. Gr. VI, 7. p. 700, Bodleian lib. (Hyde), Basel, 1500, and 
Bibl. Barberini; Zedler, 1586. 

2 Hiersemann, Conrad, " Die Abschnitte aus der Practica des Trottus in der 
Salernitanischen Sam-melschrift de Aegritudinum Curatione. Breslau Codex 
Salem. 1160-1170” [based on the seven authors of Salerno]. Inaugural Dis- 
sertation, Leipzig, 1921. 

3 The text itself is full of abbreviations. In the “Codex Salernitanus,” (Bres- 
lau, Stadtbibliothek, No. 1302) for example, “o” may stand for “oculos,” 
“oeulis,” “oculorum” ; “fr . . o” may be “frigido,” etc. Chapter X begins, 
“Ad vomitum restringendum, accipe olsum et acetum et simul tot bullias.” 

“Item ad vomitum reprimendum veteri bibe per quinque dies probatum 

est. (tot’) 

d ... . itu. trot’.” The next chapter begins, “de eodum trot.” 



“Trottus” as a solution is in no way proved. The only writers of that 
name in the catalogue of the Library of the British Museum are two 
churchmen of the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, both of whom wrote 
on religious subjects. 

Another author in Spach’s collection was Hieronimus Mercurialis, 
(1530-1606), who devotes many pages to the treatment of sterility. He 
quotes freely from the old Greek, Roman, and Arab writers, but little 
from the Salernitans by name except Trotula. On p. 224, however, he 
quotes “Trotula medicus, quem mulierem fuisse putant,” etc., as praising 
a certain condiment made of beans to cure the depraved appetite of 
pregnant women. In Liber Secundus on abortion, p. 236, he quotes, 
not only from Pico della Mirandola, certain Arab writers, Pythagoras and 
Pliny, but also from Trotula. “Est etiam aliud medicamentum proposi- 
tum a Trotula, & confirmatum ab Avicen, ut mulier tempore partus 
Magnetem manibus teneat.” But he does not accuse her of magic, or 
impute to her the “unethical methods” of the obstetrices and other 
"medici,” who profited by “opening the uterus in several ways.” 1 

Having followed Trotula through the sixteenth century, when she 
became Eros, we find no further controversy on the subject until the 
time of Mazza, who in 1681 came out in her defense. 2 

On the other hand, in the eighteenth century, Christian Godfred 
Gruner, 3 in 1773, again denied her identity, chiefly, apparently, because 
he thought that no woman of the eleventh century could have written 
what was attributed to her. He realized, however, that the work 
attributed to her could not possibly have been written before the Chris- 
tian era, so he also denied that it was written by Eros. His thesis is: 
“Neque Eros, neque Trotula, sed Salernitanus quidam Medicus isquc 
Christianus, Auctor Libelli est qui de Morbis mulierum inscribitur Nor 

1 Hieronimus Mercurialis, “De Morb. mulieb.” Spach 1597. Hieronymus 
Mercurialis (1530-1606), of Forli, was a professor of medicine at Padua, Bo- 
logna, and Pisa. He quotes all the old authorities, as well as Trotula “medi- 
cus” ; and refers to her as the “old Tuenda He speaks of the soft and supple 
hands of the ohstetrix, which she said were important, and of the necessity 
for pregnant women to wander in a garden and have good things to eat — such, 
it is said, “Trotulam Medicum antiquum cauisse.” 

- In these words: “Eruditus enim multas habemus mulieres quae non nullis 
viris ad multa praestantiores, ipsaq; doctrina, vel vicerunt, vel aequarunt; nam 
ad medicam facultatem mulieres, sicut ad viros aptas scripsii Plato Martialis 
cecinet . . . Fluorere igitur in Patrioo Studio docendo, ac in Cathedris cliscep- 
tande Abella, Mercuriadis, Rebecca, Trotta, quam alii Trotulam vocant, miris 
sane encomiis celebrandae ut notavit Tiraquellus, ac Senlia Guarna, ut ait 
Fortunatus Fidelis .” — 

Mazza, Antonio, “Historiarum epitome de rebus Salernitanis.” Naples, 1681. 

3 Gruner, Christianus Godfredus, “Neque Eros, neque Trotula,” etc., Jena, 1773 



did he think that the book was merely a compilation from many ancient 
writers by some otherwise unknown Erotian of the Middle Ages, as had 
also been suggested ; for, he says, any man who could have written such 
a book would have been at least mentioned in the lists of great doctors 
compiled by Aetius, or Copho, or Fabricius. 1 Of the defense of Trotula 
by De Renzi, her advocate in the nineteenth century, and the new attack 
on her by Sudhoff and his school, it is not necessary to speak further. 
Mention should be made, however, of a picture shown by De Renzi, 
(vol. Ill, p. 327) of a medal given to Trotula bearing the legend 
“Salerni nata, florent ann. XI,” encircling a jar of poppies, a key, and 
the staff and serpent of Aesculapius. On the reverse is the face of a 
gracious woman, and “ Trottola , medendi arte perita.” He also gives us 
a picture (vol. II, p. 2) of an initial letter “T” from one of the Trotula 
manuscripts, showing the figure of a crowned teacher holding a scroll. 
She is seated on a stool as if in the act of lecturing. A serpent above her 
head makes the cross-bar of the “T.” 

Before turning to a further discussion of the content of Trotula’s 
writings, a few more words might be said relative to the many variations 
in the form of her name. The simple fact is that such variations in 
form are not at all unusual in medieval manuscripts. Harless 2 quotes 
Baccius as follows: “Trotola sen Trottola de Ruggiero, multae doc - 
trinae matrona Salernitana, quae librum scripsit de morbis mulierum ct 
earum cura,” etc. Any book as popular and as frequently copied as hers 
was, would inevitably suffer from sheer carelessness, misquotation and 
poor translation. Harless himself has no doubt of the identity of Trotula, 
or of her connection with the Salerno school in the eleventh century. 3 

1 For the theory that Trotula’s writings were a mere compilation see Kestner, 
Med. Lexic, p. 864; Hermann Conringus, “Introdue. in Art. Med.”, p. 193; 
Thomas Bartholinus, “Diss. De Libr. legend,” VI, p. 132; Clericus, “Hist. 
Med.” v. Ill, p. 12; Stollius, “Hist, Med.” P. II, c. 1, p. 744. 

2 Harless, Dr. Christian Friedrich, “Die V erdienste der Frauen,” etc., 1830, 
quotes Fabricus, “Bibl. Latin,” T. III. 

3 Ward, H. L. D., in his “Catalogue of the Romances in the British Museum,” 
vol. I, p. 937, gives many examples of variation in form of name. For instance, 
relative to the “Titurel,” a poem founded upon the “Parzival” and “Titurel” 
by Wolfram of Eschenbach, he says that, since Wolfram himself could neither 
read nor write, he told his story to a scribe, who took down the names as they 
sounded to ' him. In this way, the name Titurel becomes Ganatulander, 
Schranatulander, Schionatulander, and finally Tschionatulander. This manu- 
script belongs to the fifteenth century. In vol. I, p. 453, Ward calls attention 
to the misspelling of the name of the heroine of “King Horn's Ballad”; Ry- 
menild becomes Remenhild, Reymild, Rimvld, Reymyl, lleynild, Rigmenil, 
Rimignil, Riquiel, Rimel, ltiemmelth, Raegnmaeld, Raegumaelcl, and Irminhild. 
The same is true of Horn’s own name and many r others. 




TT AVING come to the reasonable conclusion that, whether baptized 

Trota, Trocta, or Trotula, a woman of such name did exist in the 
eleventh century, and was a learned woman doctor of Salerno, we are 
interested to know just what she taught. We know that she was the 
wife of a noted physician, and the mother of two or more sons, one of 
whom became a famous surgeon. We know that men as well as women 
were accustomed to go to her for medical advice. We know from her 
writings that in gynecology, and in what we now call obstetrics, she was 
far in advance of her times. It is even said that she performed Caesarian 
section to save the life of the baby if not of the mother, and her surgery 
of the perineum is classic. Constantine the African tells us of an inter- 
esting case-record of Trotula that has a modern ring. A certain man 
consulted her concerning his wife who was suffering from what had been 
diagnosed by another member of the faculty as vulval hernia, and there- 
fore “Trotula vocata fuit quasi magistra opens.” On examination she 
diagnosed the case as one of vulval abscess. She lanced the abscess, 
dilated the opening with two fingers, directed the nurse to keep the 
wound open a short time for drainage, and later to heal it with medicated 

Trotula’s writings fall into several categories. There was one arti- 
cle on the remedies for general diseases, “De Compositione Medicarnen - 
torum,” another on “De Mulierum Passionibus,” which has the follow- 
ing sub-headings, "De modo generationis embrionis,” “De sterilitate ex 
parte viri,” “JJt mulier concipiat,” “De provocatione menstruorum,” 
“De fetu mortuo,” “Ad fistulas mammillae,” etc. This article is part of 
the Salernitan compendium, “De A egritudinum curatione,” in which 
Trotula is called “Magistra operis.” Many chapters of this work are 
lost, including (De Renzi thinks) the greater part of her own treatments 
of special subjects, though her description of a uterine polypus has been 
saved and is especially good. 

Before considering Trotula’s practical medical diagnoses and treat- 
ments we must take into account the pure theory which underlaid the 
physiology and pathology in the eleventh century. Old Bernard of 
Provins said : “Everything practical is theoretical, but the reverse is not 
true” ; and the great popularity of the masters of Salerno was due to 
their emphasis on the practical. Trotula was preeminently a practical 
person. She could, and did, theorize. If the human body were perfect, 



she says, its senses would be keener; it would have the power of smell 
like that of a vulture, the eye-sight of a lynx, the taste of an ape, the 
hearing of a wolf, and the touch of a spider. The working of the human 
machine was to her, as to Hippocrates and Galen, dependent on its 
humors, hot or cold, wet or dry. 

She probably never dissected a human body, because it was against 
the law of the Church. Without a knowledge of pathology, all her 
diagnoses therefore had to depend on the symptoms of the patient. There 
were twenty-nine observations to be made on the urine, as many on the 
pulse, and several on the facial expression and the feel of the skin. 
Death was forecast by five signs. To the Salernitan sicknesses fell into 
three categories: those inherited, the contagious diseases, and “others.” 

Trotula had evidently cultivated the tactus eruditus, as well as her 
other senses, and had studied the pulse carefully. With these only, for 
instance, she distinguished the symptoms of malaria from those of typhoid 
and the eruptive fevers, calculating the height of the fever, and the date 
of convalescence, without any of the instruments of precision which seem 
to us so essential. She taught her pupils to be most observant of a 
patient. For instance, says Trotula, “When you reach the patient ask 
where his pain is, then feel his pulse, touch his skin to see if he has fever, 
ask if he has had a chill, and when the pain began, and if it was worse 
at night, watch his facial expression, test the softness of his abdomen, 
ask if he passes urine freely, look carefully at the urine, examine his 
body for sensitive spots, and if you find nothing ask what other doctors 
he has consulted and what was their diagnosis, ask if he ever had a 
similar attack, and when. Then, having found the cause of his trouble 
it will be easy to determine the treatment .” 1 Trotula may have learned 
this from Galen or Hippocrates; but, if so, she adapted it to her own 
practical needs in teaching and in treatment, and, as a result, the schools 
at Salerno, and its hospitals, were in many ways far in advance of Galen. 

If Trotula made use of mummery, or attributed mystical powers to 
her remedies, she neglected to mention it in her records. The dried moss 
from the skull of a man who had been hanged was not in her materia 
medica; nor was “tongue of newt or toe of frog” in her list of remedies. 
Some of the later of her manuscripts state that she advised the wearing 
of certain crystals, or the spongy bone from the head of an ass, to prevent 
abortion ; but the very fact that these items appear in the later copies of 
her works and not her earlier, stamp them as the interpolations of copy- 

1 De Renzi, vol. V, pp. 300-304. 



ists. The faculty of the school all believed in such herbs as cyclamen 
juice for hemorrhoids, poppy juice for pain, vapors of antimony for 
bronchitis, and aloes steeped in rose water for erysipelas of the face. 
Betony, collected on Ascension Day at the third hour, was mixed with 
white of tgg to “comfort the stomach,” or mixed with wax to cure 
melancholia, sciatica and paralysis. We can perhaps understand the 
psychic benefit a melancholy patient might derive from chewing a waxy 
gum; but that this treatment would be used in paralysis it is more 
difficult to believe. Dictamnus, snake-root, and cherry-laurel were all 
used for snake bite ; and lettuce was said to ward off old age. 

The “women of Salerno” were particularly interested in making 
their patients comfortable. They ordered medicated baths and suitable 
diets; had a fire kindled if the house seemed damp or cold; sprinkled 
the patient’s face with sweet smelling extracts, applied oil of roses and 
violets to a foul ulcer ; were careful not to allow patients to use their 
strength too fast in convalescence; advised them as to quiet games and 
occupations; and whenever possible gave a hopeful prognosis. Their 
final salutation was “Vade in pace, Christo duce.” 

There were, of course, fixed rules for bleeding — these were of the 
greatest importance — and emphasis was placed on the destruction of 
flies, lice, and other insects at a time of general sickness. Also the 
Salernitan doctors were very kind to the poor. No pearls dissolved in 
wine were to be prescribed for those who could not afford them, nor the 
pills coated with gold which the rich demanded. “Simples” gathered in 
the fields and boiled with syrup, flavored differently, and often colored 
differently, for use in different diseases, were prescribed for the poor 
with faith and hope. Thus, even in Trotula’s day, was psychology made 
the handmaiden of medicine. 

Trotula was said to have written, to please her patients, a book on 
skin diseases; for the “skin one loves to touch” has always been the 
object of medical attention. Later compilers give her credit for the 
first description of the eruption and other outward manifestations of the 
disease we now call syphilis. Among her remedies for the complexion, 
pimples of the face, superfluous hairs, and skin cancer, we find an in- 
fusion of aloes in rose water, oil of bitter almonds with butter used as 
an ointment, orris root boiled in honey, and burdock leaves made into a 
poultice, etc. There was an often-copied lotion for sunburn “quo utuntur 
mulieres Salernitanae and oils for the scalp, “sic operant mulieres- 
Salernitanae,” a treatment for sore mouth and bad teeth, and one for 



erysipelas of the face, also hair dyes, such as are still used, black, yellow, 
and red. There were also even then coloring materials for the cheeks 
and lips, lotions to remove odors from the armpits, and gargles for 
sweetening the breath . 1 

De Renzi gives to Trotula credit also for articles on epilepsy (for 
which she says “the oil of Jupiter’s beard,” meaning death itself, is alone 
efficacious), one on pleurisy, and others on stone in the kidneys and blad- 
der, and on the diseases of dentition, but as they are unsigned there is no 
real proof that she wrote them. 

Trotula’s great work is, naturally, her book on gynecology. It 
matters very little whether her material came from Galen or Cleopatra 
or Soranus, for she gave it new life, adding much that was original from 
her own experience. We must not expect too much. As Von Siebold 
says, we need not be surprised that Trotula could not rise far above the 
general level of the medical knowledge of the eleventh century. What 
she did do was to teach and write so practical a treatise on gynecology 
and midwifery that for hundreds of years it was copied and used, and 
referred to as the great authority and textbook for women doctors and 
midwives in handling labor cases. 

In Wolff’s early printed edition of her work, Trotula begins, as 
we saw, by praising men and women above all created things, but 
regretting that women are the weaker. She finds them “colder” than 
men because, instead of perspiring to get rid of “humors,” as a sort of 
purge they must menstruate at regular intervals for nearly forty years. 
If her menstruation is scanty, a woman becomes sick, she has no appetite, 
“eats earth,” vomits, has headache, pains in the heart, d3^sentery, and' 
may bleed at the nose or throat to relieve her “cold” blood. Trotula 
has many short chapters on this one subject of menstruation, following 
them with others, in no particular order, on sterility, pruritus ani and 
vulvae, signs of pregnancy, difficult parturition, infant feeding, choice 
of a nurse, cough, sweating, abortion, dysentery, stone, ulcers, pediculi, 
worms, swollen glands, cancer, fistulae, etc. We must never overlook 

1 Trotula says, “Mulieres Salernitanne ponunt Viticellae, id est brioniae in 
melle\ cvm tali vielle vn<iuent faciern suam, et miro modo rubescit,” but, i^he 
adds, other women mix with this preparation cucumbers and rose water. She 
gives a prescription for face paints, and says that Saracen women prefer 
green to other colors. To soften hands she uses asphodel mixed with white 
of egg. She tells her readers how to turn a blonde into a brunette, how to curl 
straight hair, how to make hair grow rapidly (by the use of mallows soaked 
in wine mixed with yolk of egg and herbs). She adds that “all our noble 
Salernitan men and women delight in the odor of musk in their hair.” 



the fact that this is the first complete compendium of its kind that has 
come down to us; and must realize that Trotula had no guide to follow 
other than fragments of Cleopatra and her contemporaries, and of Galen 
and Hippocrates and Aetius and Paul of Aegina, of all of whose works 
she may have had more or less complete copies. In the edition of her 
writings quoted by Spach, 1597, there are nine short chapters on men- 
struation and the essential differences between men and women. In 
those days women frequently had the menopause at forty ; and painful 
menstruation must have been even more common then than it was among 
the pampered women of the Victorian Age. Hot water bottles and hot 
fomentations to the abdomen, spicy inhalations, steaming the vulva, hot 
drinks, and attention to hygiene, baths and gymnastics — all were used 
by Trotula to relieve dysmenorrhea. 

If the patient did not suffer pain from uterine disorders, she might 
nevertheless perhaps have prolapsus uteri or hemorrhoids. For these, re- 
spectively, Trotula advised the replacement of the prolapse and the use of 
tampons, or sponges, soaked in soothing and astringent lotions or oint- 
ments made with animal fat as a base. For pruritus she ordered salves of 
cherry-laurel and camphor made with white of egg, or lead ointment 
mixed with ground chick-peas and the blood of a goose, ‘‘as Galen advised 
and Hippocrates testified.” At times she prescribed such astringents as oak 
galls mixed with the rinds of pomegranates, or sumac, or myrtle, or 
stupes of boxwood and oil heated over charcoal. For abscesses of the 
uterus she advised bleeding from the feet “twice a day if the woman is 
strong,” otherwise plasters to the abdomen, besides hot drinks containing 
the powdered heart of a stag. 

Sterility was something which most women of the Middle Ages 
feared worse than death. Trotula says that, if a woman has been sterile 
for thirty years, she is probably incurable; but that still it would be well 
to give her a particularly nourishing diet for a while to see if it might 
cure her. This is suggestive of Vitamin E, and so has a modern ring. 
Then comes a test experiment to determine which is sterile, the man or 
his wife. She puts their urine into separate flasks, and adds to each a 
certain quantity of convolvulus (our morning glory?). The specimen 
which, at the end of nine days, is “full of worms,” or is decomposed, 
shows which person is at fault. If, however, both specimens become 
decomposed, there is still a possibility of cure by taking the testicular 
gland of a pig, drying and pulverizing it and making it into a tea for 
both man and wife to drink. The pregnant uterus of a wild sow may 



be used, instead, as a remedy. It is not clear whether this was to be 
taken by both man and woman or not . 1 

Occasionally it happens, says Trotula, that a woman fears to be- 
come pregnant because of a deformed pelvis. If this is the case let her 
take a certain stone, wrap it in skin, and wear it, together with a testicle 
of a pig and as many grains of barley as there are months during which 
she fears becoming pregnant. If she wishes to continue sterile, let her 

A Lying-in Room of the Early iotii Century 

(From “De Sorte Hominum.” 1 'enice, 1522.) 

eat a handful of barley corns. If, however, pregnancy has occurred, 
Trotula gives a caution to the mother to avoid dysentery, anger, and 
unhappiness for fear of aborting. She then describes the formation of 
the ovum and the site of the fetus in utero during its nine months of 

Her Chapter XIV, on the signs of pregnancy, gives us some insight 
into the superstitions of Trotula’s period. She says, “if the left breast is 

1 Mandrake was always used as a cure for sterility and sometimes also, ac- 
cording to Bernard of Provins and Peter Hispanensis, the dried dung of an ass. 



larger than the right the baby will be a girl” (this she got from Hippo- 
crates). To determine sex she gives another sign: “Place a few drops 
of the mother’s blood, or of the milk of her right breast, in a glass 
of water — if they sink the baby will be a boy.” Constantine quoted 
this with approval; and even today we find such little experiments a 
conventional part of the obstetric superstitions of country people. 

Trotula’s next chapters concern the hygiene of pregnancy, rules for 
parturient women, difficult labor, and the procedures for midwives in all 
emergencies. Highly significant is the commentary, written in an 
eighteenth century style, in Latin, along the margins of these particular 
chapters of the copy of the Spach edition of Trotula which is in the Libra- 
ry of the British Museum. This anonymous annotator says, “I praise the 
nature of this woman ; it is scarcely possible that it was written by a 
man. Many things are here recorded which indicate the endeavor of a 
woman to help her sex, and which must have been foreign to her natural 
modesty to write, but which are the honest business of a refined and 
gentle medical woman for the good of her sex.” And again he writes, 
“Auctor libri foanina,” and fully accepts her own self-revealing state- 
ment: “Wherefore I, Trotula, pitying the calamities of women and at 
the urgent request of certain ones, began to write this book on the di- 
seases which affect their sex.” It is interesting to find one of the owners 
of this old volume expressing himself in such terms of admiration, es- 
pecially at a time when most men felt that women as a class could do 
very little work of a professional type. 

Turning to Trotula’s chapters on pediatrics, one of the earliest of 
all pediatric writings, her directions for the care of the new baby are 
to be admired. She says that the baby must be gently washed, and 
its cord carefully knotted and dried. The nurse must look at its tongue 
to see if it is “tied,” and then examine its body to find if it is perfect in 
all its joints. She may give it a little sweet almond milk and sugar 
before its mother’s breasts begin to secrete milk, or even chicken broth 
and camomile tea, etc. Then follow directions for the care of a baby 
through the teething age. 

The nineteenth chapter deals with the selection of a nurse. Here 
again, although she copies Hippocrates and other and later writers on 
this subject, Trotula shows herself every inch a woman, and a mother, 
as well as a doctor. The nurse must have no sign of skin disease 
(svphilis?). She must not be pregnant; she must have good breasts and 



a young baby of her own, be of good character, perfectly healthy, and 
have no cough. 

Then follows a particularly valuable chapter (XX) on post-partum 
care , 1 beginning with the treatment of after-pains and retained placenta. 
In case of difficulty the midwife ( !) was to send for Trotula at once, 
"Unde communiter Trotula vocata ju'it, quasi Magister opens.” And 
in case Trotula thought some operation necessary, she took the patient 
to her own house, ” ut in secreto cognosceret causarn aegritudinis,” and 
“ Cum earn vidisset Trotula admirata fuit quatn plurimum,” Perhaps 
this last was inserted by a copyist; but, if not, it was a pardonable ad- 
mission of her ability. 

The following chapters of Trotula’s book seem to have been col- 
lected from different sources, and to be arranged in no particular order : 
on the care of the breasts, on offensive sweating, on spots before the 
eyes, on the prolapse of a virgin uterus and the hindrances to copulation 
caused by such an accident as well as by a swollen vulva, on painful 
coitus, on abortion, on pains in the iliac region, on strangury, stone in 
the bladder, pediculosis vulvae (treated by an ointment of aloes), and 
on scabies, treated by an ointment of silver with an acid. For cancer she 
used dried bed bugs, mastic, tar, aloes, absinth, sage, etc. There are a 
few paragraphs on a baby’s tight foreskin, others on the use of myrrh 
for bad breath, on the kind of astringents to use for a long uvula, on 
“worms in the hands and feet” (scabies?), on enlarged glands, fistulae, 
and on certain lotions to be used every day, “even Sundays.” 

Trotula used, of course, many of the old remedies of Dioscorides 
and Paid of Aegina. Artemisia, camphor, musk and barley gruel were 
relied upon in convalescence, camphor to dry the mother’s milk, pulver- 
ized euphorbia for eruptive diseases of children, and many Arabic, and 
even more ancient, remedies now quite obsolete, and probably never of 
any specific value, for various other purposes. The best work, however, 
of Trotula and her colleagues, lay in their treatment for gynecological 
troubles and abnormalities in obstetrics. If according to the practices 
of their time they sometimes used a “savor of magic,” as Thorndike 
suggests , 2 we might excuse them. They may have fed doves with acorns, 

1 Trotula used the Trendelenburg treatment for the post partum hemorrhage, 
“suspending” the patient by the legs for eight or nine days in bed, not allow- 
ing her to be bathed. She was to eat the simplest food, tampons were to be 
placed in the vagina if necessary, and an adherent placenta removed most 

2 Thorndike, Lvnn, “A History of Magic and Experimental Science,” vol. I, 
p. 740, 1923. 



killed the doves and removed the acorns, and prescribed them for a 
pregnant woman to ease the pains of labor; they may have used 
the burned and pulverized horn of a stag in suppositories made with 
gum Arabic, almonds, and wheat Hour as a cure for amenorrhea * 1 , as had 
been done by the women of the Augustan Age; they may have used 
artemisia with tampons of black bile for the same purpose. For post 
partum pains they may have made pastes of baked apples, without seeds 
or peel, mixed with mastic, wax, ivy leaves, and gladiolus flowers cooked 
in wine or vinegar, a mixture to be used for tampons in the vagina, or 
cataplasms to the abdomen, combined with hot drinks and carminatives 
in unlimited quantity. What of it .' 1 They may have made the patient 
feel better. 

In gynecological surgery the school of Salerno was facile prince ps. 
Many writers have praised Trotula’s operation for a completely ruptured 
perineum. The uterus, if prolapsed, must, she directed, be softened by 
hot wine compresses and replaced, and the tear itself at once sutured. 
A tampon soaked in hot wine and butter was to be placed in the vagina, 
to retain the uterus, while deep stitches were to be taken at the anus, 
and in three or four other places, with silk thread, and the whole was 
to be well dusted with powder. Then a linen cloth soaked in tar water 
was to be tightly bandaged against the wound, and the patient’s feet 
held “higher than her head.” She was to be kept in this position for 
eight or nine days, without bathing. She was not to be allowed to cough 
or to vomit, and her diet was to be very simple. Knowing, of course, 
nothing of sepsis, Trotula yet directed that pads were to be placed 
against the anus, or in the rectum, to prevent any contact with faeces. 
But Trotula sensibly concludes, “although the perineum will be stronger 
than before it was torn, it would have been better to avoid such injury 
by greater care at the birth of the baby .” 2 

Wounds of the abdomen were not rare in those hectic and trouble- 
some times, and the women of Salerno knew all about “laudable pus.” 
They, however, used hot wine, with great cleanliness, in closing wounds, 
and expected healing by first intention. They gave opiates for pain, and 
inhalations from a sponge soaked in opium and hysocyamus, hemlock, 
and mandrake, as a soporific. Sticher 3 says that surgeons tied the 
saphenous vein, and removed abdominal tumors. Whether both women 

1 Piero Giacosa, op. cit., p. 299. 
s Gurlt, op. cit., vol. I, p. 1)95. 

1 Sticher, George, “Essays on the Historv of Medicine,” Presented to Sudhoff 



and men did this operation is not told ; but we do know that men did 
very little surgery. Von Siebold, 1 well known German writer, does 
not for a moment doubt that obstetrics, at all events, which was entirely 
in the hands of the women of Salerno, was far in advance of general 
medicine in the eleventh century. 

An illustration, copied by De Renzi from an old manuscript in 
Breslau, shows two women doctors officiating at the birth of Tancred 


$Dta t/T etn Hecfimmt bcr«j<funrbflt urcl) 
alU (ft*na$cbc$ganQen'lat:c6/mt 
man ficb mit cffcu vn& 

Aucb mtemncfcn vfi 

The Title-page of One of the 240 Editions of the 
Most Popular of Medieval Works 

the Norman, the father of Robert of Sicily. Elegantly clad in long 
green and yellow gowns with flowing sleeves, they stand by the bedside 
of the mother, holding the new baby high for her to admire. The blonde 
hair of the mother falls over a red pillow, and her body is covered with 

1 Von Siebold, Eduard Casper Jacob, “History of Obstetrics,” 1839, p. 312. 



a green damask coverlet. Nurses prepare a bath for the baby near a 
fire, and the room is evidently one of luxury. Other similar illustrations 
are to be found in manuscripts, as well as in sculpture and mosaics, 
dating from the twelfth and earlier centuries. On the walls of a chapel 
near Palermo are representations of the birth of Christ, showing the phy- 
sicians in the same sort of elaborate costumes, the mother lying in a 
richly decorated room on a rather high bed, leaning on her elbow to 
watch the nurses bathe her very large and intelligent baby in a great 
goblet of water which an attendant fills from a silver pitcher. The 
father of the baby has modestly turned his back to the scene. Since of 
course there must be some indication of a manger in a Nativity picture, 
a cow and a donkey are introduced, who are looking on with wise eyes. 
Tancred was evidently born without these latter witnesses; but other- 
wise the scene is probably a faithful reproduction of one common in the 
eleventh and twelfth centuries. 

The illustrations in Spach’s book (published in 1597) are interest- 
ing, as indications of the anatomy and surgery of the time. There are 
cranioclasts, forceps shaped like fire tongs, and imaginary pictures of 
malformations of the uterus, and of a child in utero, as well as other 
conventional drawings of the female pelvic organs as they were sup- 
posed to be. 

E need not be surprised that the contributions to medical litera- 

ture made by the faculty of the Salernitan school were very early 
put into a sort of verse. Rooks were so scarce during its period that 
literature and science were often handed down orally. As poetry, or 
at least rhymed material, was easier to remember than prose, many books 
were written in that form. What a doctor had at the tip of his tongue 
was of more value to his patient than a book in some little known 
language, written in a cramped hand, and kept chained to a shelf in 
some library. Nor was it anything new to write even medical books 
in verse. Back in the time of Euclid, a scholar of Asia Minor named 
Aratos wrote 1154 verses covering what he knew of natural sciences; 
and during the reign of Caracalla, a treatise on therapeutics was written 
in verse by Serenus Samonicus in which were forty-two rhymed pre- 
scriptions. From the third or fourth centuries dates the “De medicina 




praecepta saluberrima,” which, in 1 1 15 hexameters, contained remedies 
for every known ache or disease, not excepting warts and hemorrhoids, 
A friend of St. Augustine wrote a poem on embryology, physiology, etc.,, 
and Bishop Theobald (1022-1035), the Abbot of Monte Cassino, wrote 
as we have seen, a metrical bestiary. 

Rhymsters, therefore, were not wanting to turn the famous “Regimen 
Sanitatis Salernitanum” into verse for general use. Who was the first 
to undertake it has been, however, the subject of much conjecture, 
Ackermann 1 thinks it was done by a son of Constantine the African, or 
by John of Mediolanum (Milan). Most of the other medical historians, 
give to Arnold of Villanova (A. D. 1234-131 1 ) the credit for first trans- 
lating the " Regimen ” into verse, especially the lines containing the rules 
for a healthy old age. Sudhoff suggests that Arnold borrowed his ma- 
terial from an even older manuscript, a pseudo-Aristotelian epistle dedi- 
cated to Alexander the Great, and Garrison hints that Arnold was only 
one of several writers who rhymed this material, Gilles de Corbeil being 
another. At any rate, as a text-book, this versified Salernitan “ Regimen’ r 
was universally popular for hundreds of years. De Renzi found as 
many as 240 different editions of the poem in many languages, including 
one of 842 lines in Latin on gynecology, abortion, prolapsus uteri, sterili- 
ty, the dead fetus, and the repair of the perineum, which, as we have 
seen, were exactly the subjects upon which Trotula herself wrote 

The first edition of the poem, if we may speak of it as such, had 
362 lines, to which Arnold himself later seems to have added 12 1 lines 
on hygience, and 161 more as an appendix. His famous stanza ending, 
“Haec tria: mens laeta sive hilaris, requies, moderata dietd’ has been 
often quoted or translated into other languages, one English translation 
being, “Use three physicians still, first Doctor Quiet, next Doctor Merry- 
man, then Doctor Dyet,” i.e., “eat moderately, rest sufficiently, be happy r 
and defy the doctor.” 

The Gilles de Corbeil, or Aegidius Corboliensis, mentioned was a 
Canon of Notre Dame of Paris, physician to Philip Augustus (1140- 
1224). Except that he had studied at Salerno in the twelfth century, 
very little is known about him. He is only mentioned twice by his con- 
temporaries. He seems, however, to have written two medical poems 
based on the “Regimen,” one on the pulse and the urine, the other on 

1 Ackermann, Johann Christian Gottlieb, “Studii medici Salernitani Historia, 
Jnstitutiones historiae medicinae,” 1792, p. 398, 



antidotes, embodying the teachings of Nicolas, Platearius, and others, 
but omitting those of Trotula. Whoever was the author of the rhymed 
version of Trotula’s writings, it is undeniable that it was used for 
hundreds of years by both men and women medical students. 

The first rhymed edition of the “Regimen Salernitanum” to be 
printed in English 1 has a dedication to the king, which reads: 

Salerno’s school, in conclave high, unites 
To counsel England’s King, and thus indites: 

If thou to health and vigor wouldst attain. 

Shun weighty cares- — -all anger deem profane, 

From heavy suppers and much wine abstain. 

Arnold of Villanova’s advice is here translated: 

“Shouldst Doctors need, 

Be these in Doctor’s stead — 

Rest, cheerfulness, and table thinly spread.” 


“Great suppers will the stomach’s peace impair, 

Wouldst lightly rest? Curtail thine evening fare.” 

According to this poem, Trotula’s advice as to the care of the teeth is 
amplified into a belief that, as “dirt” in the blood causes disease by 
settling in certain parts of the body, so “worms” in the teeth cause pain. 

“If in your teeth you hap to he tormented, 

By meane some little wormes therein do breed, 

Which pain (if heed be ta’en) may be prevented, 

By keeping cleane your teeth, when as you feede; 

Burne Francom-sence (a gum not evil sented). 

Put hen-bane unto this, and Onyon-seed, 

And with a Tunnell to the tooth that’s hollow, 

Convey the smoke thereof, and ease shall follow.” 

John Ordronaux, who was professor of medical jurisprudence at 
Columbia University, speaks thus of the women doctors of Salerno: 
“They were conservative, orthodox, most intelligent teachers, and most 
ethical, and they well fitted the spheres for which God had endowed 

1 Ordronaux, John, “Code of Health of the School of Salernum,” translated 
into English verse, 1870. 

Chapter IV 

The Medical Women Ol 
The Twelfth Century 


A FTER finding a surprising amount of knowledge among the medi- 
cal women of Salerno in the eleventh century it is disconcerting to 
learn that at its school in the twelfth century there were no women 
teachers so famous as Trotula, notwithstanding the fact that until the 
end of the century Salerno still had the only Christian coeducational 
medical school on the continent of Europe. Other colleges or uni- 
versities were to be founded in this century by the men who had studied 
at Salerno , 1 but these were destined to put a long stop to coeducation 
except in Italy, and to drive to the monasteries most of the women who 
wished either to study the arts or medicine. Education per se at this 
time mattered little either to men or women ; and medical education in 
particular was largely traditional and philosophical. 

The twelfth century, as Eileen Power put it , 2 placed women either 
in a pit or on a pedestal. It was the century of the Crusades, in which 
women were either left at home poor, sick, or desolate, or praised to the 
skies for beauty or virtue by the troubadours. Their lot in general 
depended upon the men with whom they came in personal relationship. 
In their homes they were treated with ignominy if not abuse, and had 
little freedom of action. It must have been with a sense of relief that 
they entered a monastery where they were at least protected from unwel- 
come handling and had some opportunity for self-expression. 

The twelfth century, like its predecessors, was one of perpetual 
turmoil if not of great wars. Church-made dogmas were taking the 

1 Salerno was sacked in 119-1 by Henry VI. Its medical school never re- 
covered its old prestige, for its best teachers were soon settled all over Europe. 

2 Power, Eileen, “Medieval English Nunneries,” 1922. 



place of the code of morals taught by Christ, and so-called Christian 
culture was destroying whatever did not suit its scheme. Neither the 
common people nor the well-to-do laymen knew much of life except as 
they went to war or became Crusaders, or travelled to faraway lands as 
merchants, for their leisure at home was spent in hunting, eating, and 
sleeping. To the men of the nobility in times of peace a beautiful suit 
of chain armor, handsome clothes, and wine, women, and lively amuse- 
ments were all that they desired. To the servants of a household or 
hired soldiers, life must have been little short of purgatory. A quarrel 
over a boundary or a personal affront was a “casus belli,” and there- 
fore, as Saintsbury tells us 1 , “the emperors and the admirals, perhaps 
even their fair and obliging daughters, had the covetous and ferocious, 
pious and lawless spirit which hardly dropped the sword except to take 
up the torch,” that is to enter a convent or monastery. 

A married woman had children as often as possible, brewed the ale, 
did a part of the spinning and some of the weaving, managed the ser- 
vants, and probably with what traditional knowledge she had, attended 
to the various ailments of her community. 


rpHERE were no laws against the practice of medicine by women in 
the twelfth century, for, according to Roger’s Practica, a surgical 
work written in this century, it was not until A.D. 1180 that the degree 
of M. D. was given to any one even at the Salerno school, and later still 
that laws were passed restricting the practice of medicine to licensed 
doctors. Any monk might call himself a medicus if he had copied a single 
medical manuscript. The Church, however, during this century, de- 
creed once more that monks should not let blood or perform surgical 
operations. These decrees came from the Council of Tours in 1125, 
and from the Lateran in 1139, and, as a result, it was to women 
and laymen, especially barbers, fell the work of treating wounds, 
bleeding, and setting bones. There were no surgeons recognized as such 
before the thirteenth century, and although by the fourteenth there 
were laws making it a punishable offence for both barbers and women 
to practice surgery, such laws soon became dead letters. Surgeons, there- 

1 Saintsbury, George, “The Flourishing of Romance in the 12th and 13th Cen- 
turies,” pp. 2, 37, 1897. 



fore, whether male or female, were looked upon somewhat as menials, 
but at a time when everybody was supposed to be bled twice a year, and 
when broils were incessant they must have been none the less necessary. 

Even so early as 1140 Roger II, 1 king of the “Two Sicilies,” 
decreed that no one in his kingdom should practice medicine with- 
out a license obtained by passing an examination, whatever that 
may have meant in those days. Heavy penalties were imposed on those 
who broke this law, but discovery generally depended on the death of 
the patient. The old Visigothic Code was still appealed to for retri- 
bution, and this was in reality the Code of Hammurabi, more than two 
thousand years old, in which an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth was 
demanded from the physician. Death from abortefacients entailed 
the punishment not only of the administrator but of his or her family to 
the seventh generation. The attitude of the Church toward abortion 
being what it was this law was more generally observed. 

Seventy years after the death of Roger II, Frederick II again 
enforced the medical laws with great severity, adding others defining the 
courses of medical study, and still other laws for the control of social 
morality. In A.D. 1224 a candidate was obliged to give evidence 
of having studied Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna for three years, 
after eight years of study of the Seven Liberal Arts. 2 

There were also laws governing prostitutes, but prostitution was 
so common that the laws were almost a dead letter, and the priests and 
physicians who personally dared to disregard laws of celibacy 3 also shut 
their eyes to other laws. We remember that the Empress Theodora of 
Constantinople, wife of the Emperor Justinian, in the sixth century 
opened a house for the isolation of prostitutes where she attempted rescue 
work for them. Five hundred such women were brought in from the 
streets of the city and confined in the palace, and while a few of them 
attempted to commit suicide, many others were grateful for being re- 
lieved of an obnoxious life. In the later Middle Ages disorderly houses 

1 It will 'be recalled by travelers in Sicily that among the most beautiful 
treasures of Palermo is the ruined palace of this Roger with its Arabesque 
decorations on a Romanesque, partly ruined foundation. Its walls are covered 
with ancient glass mosaics on a gold ground. There is also a Norman house, 
and Roger’s chapel of the twelfth century with superb mosaic pictures illus- 
trating Bible stories. The tombs of Roger and his wife Constance are in 
the Cathedral. 

2 This consisted of the Trivium, grammar, rhetoric, dialectics; and the Quad- 
rivium, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and musical annotation. 

3 Celibacy of the clergy and physicians was instituted by the Council of 
Rheims in A.D. 1119, but there were then said to be seven women to one man, 
and prostitution was openly supported and sexual debauchery common. 


1 58 

were generally licensed, although sometimes let alone and sometimes 
“regulated.” In 1161 in London a weekly medical examination was 
ordered for “sequestered women,” and this examination was always 
made by medical women experts. In Avignon, while the popes were 
there in exile (1309-1377), it is said that the streets were free from 
lewd women, but up to the present time the problems of prostitution 
have never been settled properly by attention alone to women offenders, 
as Josephine Butler and others have shown. 

Frederick Barbarossa tried to enforce medical laws during 
his reign, but the only permanent result was to separate lay doctors, men 
and women, from la} - surgeons, and to place the former on a distinctly 
higher plane than the latter, although a doctor’s business was much less 
strenuous than that of a surgeon. Had there been laws against the prac- 
tice of medicine and surgery by women it would have been impossible 
to enforce them. As an obstetrician she went about her business unhin- 
dered, studying wherever she found a teacher. Early in this century, 
however, women began to study privately at Montpellier, as “clients of 
physicians,” Jews, Arabs, or Spaniards; and, according to Rashdall, 1 
there was a Church medical school established in that city in 1 182 2 3 which 
had no restrictions upon its admissions except the insistence that its pupils 
give free treatment to the clergy. In 1180 Lord Guillem allowed any- 
one to teach medicine in Montpellier, and probably women taught as 
well as men, for a hundred years later, in the time of Guy de Chauliac, 
one of the most popular teachers there was a woman. • 

No special buildings were needed for a medical school in the 
twelfth century, the tuition being entirely by lectures or a dissertation 
on the meaning of passages in Galen or Aristotle or the Salernitan 
authors. Pope Urban had decreed that the students should sit out of 
doors on the ground around their teacher rather than on benches in a 

1 Rashdall, H., “Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages,” vol. II, p. 116, 


3 Garrison, 3rd ed., p. 166, “Introduction to the History of Medicine,” says that 
the earliest universities of Europe were founded in the following order: Paris, 
1110; Bologna, 1158; Oxford, 1167; Cambridge, 1209; five others in the follow- 
ing century. The medical faculty of Paris was not one of the earliest founda- 
tions of the university, and it was scarcely noticed before the end of the 12th 
century as a part of the Cathedral School of Notre Dame or of St. Genevieve. 
Its charter dates from the year 1200. The earliest statutes of Montpellier’s 
medical school date from 1220. Teaching was in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin 
like that at Salerno. 

Sarton, vol. II, p. 350-351, tells us that the word university implied a society 
or guild of masters. The word first appears in a charter of cardinal Robert 
of Cour^on in 1215. The earliest form of academic degree was a promotion to 
nwgister or lirenliu doceiuli; both of these academic words have come down 
to us as master and doctor. 


159 ' 

Skeletal Anatomy, 12th Century 



room. This sort of al fresco school room may be seen in most tropical 
countries today, especially in the schools of the Mohammedan mosques, 
although even there the students are sheltered from storms and wet 
ground. If the ground were muddy, however, the students were told to 
lay their cloaks down and sit on them. Discussions and memorization 
of old authors took the place of investigations and experimentation, and 
scholars as well as teachers went from city to city in their search for 
knowledge, forever ruminating on Plato and Aristotle, astrology and 
astronomy, gaining some experience but doing little that was practical. 
One old writer of that time, Guido Bonatti, whom Dante saw in the 
Inferno “because of his diabolical arts,” was accused of “expounding 
astrology as thoroughly as if he were teaching it to women.” In fact, 
astronomy and astrology continued for three hundred years to be 
considered the most useful of all the sciences, for, says Stephen Hawes 
in the sixteenth century , 1 you will become well educated if you study 

Whatever their studies, universities were not as necessary to the 
common people of the twelfth century as hospitals. This was the century 
of the Crusades, when leprosy and every contagious disease followed the 
hordes of pilgrims. It is true that lepers were severely segregated by 
laws which were usually enforced. They were obliged to wear a hooded 
garment which completely covered them except for the eyes, and when 
they went begging they rang a bell or knocked clappers to give 
warning of their presence. Naturally, separate shelters or hostels were 
built hastily for them in every town where pious women or monks might 
gain a certain kind of fame and religious credit by devoting them- 
selves to their care. Stories of such devotion were told by the wandering 
minstrels to appreciative audiences and suggested similar work to others. 


'yT/’E have merely touched the everyday life of women during the 
twelfth century and can scarcely imagine how dreary and uncom- 
fortable their homes must have been even among the very wealthy, and 
how pitiable their condition when sick. The work of a few medical wom- 

1 Mead, Win. E., “Stephen Hawes, Pastime of Pleasure,” pp. 104, 105, 1928. 

Who knew astronomy at every season 

Might set in order everything by reason, 

For God himself is the chief astronomer. 

(Lines 2687-2688, 2724) 



en and nurses in the homes of the abject poor today is possibly suggestive 
of the work of all doctors in the Middle Ages, for then creature com- 
forts were generally lacking everywhere. The ordinary house was 
scarcely more than a shelter of one story. The floors were the bare 
earth, there were no carpets, no glass windows, no chimneys. Most 
houses had but one room, and the smoke from a fire in the center of it 
found exit through a hole in the roof or beneath the eaves. Even 
in the time of Chaucer 1 English cottages were no better than those of 
the twelfth century. Travelers were obliged to sleep on and under 
straw, perhaps in a loft with other members of the family or their 
friends, and share the rest of the house with pigs and hens and the 
donkey. In the living room, near the fire, was a movable trestle table 
in the center of which a bowl of food might be placed into which every- 
body dipped his bread, and one large cup from which everybody drank. 
The bedding along the walls, and also the covering of the floor, was of 
straw or rushes, more or less filthy and full of remnants of food and 
rubbish. Patients, as well as healthy people, slept in their clothes or 
naked, as is seen in old illustrations in the manuscripts, and the hospitals 
provided so few beds that the dying and the living had to lie elbow to 
elbow, each a human stove so long as his heart continued to beat, or an 
apparently unfeeling machine. In such homes and under such conditions 
physicians and nurses, midwives and priests did their work as best they 
could, but it is small w T onder if mortality was high. 

As the question of an education for the poor was not even con- 
sidered, what they learned of medicine they learned through their eyes 
or ears. Bible pictures in mosaic on the walls of churches and castles 
told their stories clearly; and the methods of caring for the sick were 
handed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth along 
with the traditions for gathering herbs and mixing poultices. 

The women of the upper classes were as a rule better educated than 
their brothers, but though they had the power of making their own 
wills and using their dowries as they chose, they were in no respect free 
or independent in their homes. Mills 2 tells us that the women of the 
time of the Crusades were virtually slaves of their fathers or husbands. 
Heiresses must marry according to their father’s will or forfeit their 
dowry. A widow inherited half of her husband’s property and was the 

1 Quoting from the Nonnes Preestes Tale: “The poure wydwe (widow) somdel 
stape in age” was so stiff that she could no longer dance. Her cottage was 
black with soot, and over-eating had never made her sick for her diet was milk 
and brown bread, and occasionally an egg. 

2 Mills, Charles, “History of the Crusades,” vol. I, 1828. 



guardian of her babes; she might marry again, but a maiden of fifty 
even with a small dowry was considered unmarrigeable, i. e. of no 
value in the market, and a poor girl might actually be sold for one 
hundred pieces of gold like a female falcon. Marie de France has given 
us many interesting pictures of the private or home life of the wealthy 
women of this period particularly when their husbands were off at war 
or taking part in a Crusade. Being educated for the care of the estate 
they were bold and fearless and strong. Prudery being unknown they 
lived in common with guests and friends in the great hall. If the 
mistress were a good Christian, she considered nothing menial which 
she could do for any guests who might be ill or injured. 1 

Marie de France 2 3 lived in Normandy and “flourished” between 
1175 and 1190. She tells us, "Marie a'l nurn, si suis de France !’ but 
she was not from Paris, although her dialect is more like the French 
of the Isle than of her own country. She lived and wrote, however, at 
the court of Henry II, and she may have been one of the trouveres who 
wrote stories for a living. She must either have traveled throughout 
the various provinces or else met wandering minstrels who sang for her. 
Her stories were derived mainly from Brittany, England, and Ireland, 
but at least a dozen of her l a is came directly from the Breton people, 
and into them she wove many a bit of medical lore. Some of these lais 
were even adapted from tales of the Far East, or from Greece, and she 
sang them to the tunes she played on her harp. In one of her tales, 
The Two Lovers ? there is a royal maiden living not far from Rouen in 
Normandy, whose father would only give her in marriage to the man 
who could carry her to the top of a certain hill without stopping. The 
girl makes herself too heavy for those whom she does not wish to marry, 
but for the one of her choice she diets according to the rules of the 
Regimen of Salerno, and sends him to the “ladies of Salerno” or to her 
own aunt, who was a medical woman, for some medicine which should 
make him strong enough for his task. He returns with the drug but 
scorns to take it when he sees how thin the girl is; he picks her up and 
rushes with her to the top of the hill, but, alas, drops dead when they 
arrive at the end of the path. Marie’s lais made a great impression upon 
the Court ladies and knights of the days of Henry I and Henry II, for 
they believed with her that there were certain drugs so wonderful that 

1 Font. ages, Haryett, ‘‘Les Femmes dorteurs en midecine dans tons les pays," 


3 See article in Encyclopedia Britannica, XI V edition, Yol. 14, p. 884. 

5 Marie de France, “Le Lai des Deux Amants.’’ 

Treatment of Wounds of the Head — 12th Century. 

(The sis lower panels show operations — perhaps trephining — in two, 
handaging in two, scarifications in two. From a French Ms. of about 
1180 , of a medical treatise by Roger of Salerno. Courtesy of Charles 

and Dorothea Singer) 


the mere smell of them would bring the dead to life, and medicines 
known only to animals like the weasel for instance, which alone could 
find the red vervain or a certain little yellow flower to cure snake bite, 
and they also imagined that snakes, like those of Mt. Ida in Crete, still 
existed and were as important, medically, as in olden times, but they 
were proverbially difficult to find. 

The homes of the rich, as already noted, were scarcely more com- 
fortable, or even cleaner, than those of the poor. They were built for 
defense; many of them were great castles; but, as in the humbler cottages, 
they had no window glass and no chimneys; their floors were of stone 
or bricks covered with straw or rushes into which was thrown the waste 
from the table which accumulated until the stench was unendurable. 
Except that the master and mistress had a room apart, household and 
guests as a rule slept together in the great hall after the evening 
meal. The life of such a high high-born wife has often been told. 1 
Her daily routine was somewhat as follows: She arose early in the 
morning when the watchman in the tower sounded his horn, and, step- 
ping from her high curtained bed onto a fur rug before a blazing fire 
on the hearth, she dressed quickly and washed her face in perfumed 
water, said her prayers, and ate a bowl of soup. She then started on 
her rounds of the estate to visit the sick or injured, and to arrange the 
day’s work for the servants. That she could set a broken limb 2 is shown 
by the descriptions in Roger’s “Surgery.” She might, accompanied by 
her lute, sing a nervous person to sleep or tell a story to the sick or 
wounded knight, or pet a fretful baby and prescribe its food or remedies. 

When her domestic and medical work was finished, she might go 
hawking with another knight, or play a game of chess, or sit in the 
great hall to weave or embroider an altar cloth while listening to the 
latest songs of a wandering minstrel. Her clothes were of imported 
silk or linen or of fine damask, bordered with fur, and her hair was 

1 Welch, Alice Kemp, Six Mediaeval Women, Introduction, 1913. 

2 Schultz, Alwin, “Das Hofische Leben zur Zeit Der Minnesinger,” vol. 1, 
p. 202, 1889. 

“Die alte Konigin wascht min seine Wunden mit ‘dictam und warmen win 
und einen blawen zindal, verbindet sie dann und steckt Him eine Sclilafwurz 
in den Mund.’ Schultz adds that women were the best nurses and probably 
the best doctors. 

Die Frauen aber verstehen nicht bloss die Wunden zu verbinden, sie sam- 
meln auch im Walde heilgraftigen Krater und stellen die Salben und Pf taster 
selbst her.” Schultz, vol. I, p. 201. 

Aegidius Corboliensis, Gilles of Corbeil, said that women were especially 
skilled in the treatment of diseases of children. (Schultz, vol. I, p. 203.) 



held by beautiful ivory combs brought from the Far East . 1 Her life 
was varied and more or less interesting, but it is doubtful that all wives 
were as exemplary as the one described. The people of the Middle 
Ages lived in a rather savage world, full of selfishness and immorality. 
The women of southern France in particular seem to have been an 
amorous lot, and most of them got their chief pleasure from illicit love. 
Queen Eleanor declared that true love does not exist between married 

Husbands were allowed to beat their wives, or to punish them 
in any other way, for laxity of conduct — if discovered or even suspected. 
The Sieur de Coucy, like the Normans of earlier times, compelled his 
wife to eat the still warm heart of her dead lover, although he was 
indulgent to her in many ways, taught her how to keep accounts, and 
to prepare and use medicines, and to manage his large estates. Kings 
like Frederick Barbarossa and Richard the Lion-Hearted ordered cul- 
prits to be horribly maimed in the presence not only of the men but of 
the ladies of the court as an example to evil doers. In the Lamenta- 
tions of Mathieu 2 we are told that women are in general much worse 
sinners than men, in fact they are the very incarnations of evil, sensual, 
lacking in moral courage, and to Mathieu’s thinking it would have been 
better to have created an Eve-less world. 

On the other hand, it is possible to find many noble women of the 
period who were by no means addicted to love affairs. The Countess 
of Hereford devoted her life as a “fisicienne” to the care of the sick 
without any other pay than “the hope of escaping the immortal worm 
who devours the damned.” Women of royal birth went about in 
rags and filth for humility’s sake ; others wore rough garments beneath 
their velvet robes to mortify their flesh, and there were many high-born 
dames, like Euphemia of Wherwell, who gave up lives of comparative 
comfort to become prioresses of monasteries. It is said that she “with 

1 We find in the “Erec and Enide” of Chretien de Troyes that after Erec was 
healed he was dressed in a robe of dark purple silk trimmed with ermine, and 
his host gave him also a striped cloak trimmed with fur. He and Enide left 
the castle on good-tempered palfreys, their breast-straps trimmed with gold 
and emeralds. Precious purple velvet was laid over the saddles, the bows of 
which were of ivory carved to represent the arrival of Aeneas at Troy. The 
castle was decorated with paintings and its walls were hung with silken 
draperies. They ate birds, venison, fruit and wines for supper. The garden 
contained all sorts of fruit and flowers and every kind of spice used in medi- 
cine. This all sounds comfortable and luxurious, but it may have been due to 
the imagination of the author, and may not have been a true picture of his own 
life at court. 

2 Langlois, Ch., “La Vie en France au Moyen Age,” p. 147, 1926. 



the spirit of a man rather than of a woman dedicated herself to a lite 
of medicine and piety.” 

Nor can we lay all the blame for the low state of medical practice 
in this period upon the Church, although it had effectually put a stop 
to scientific experimentation, and had forbidden dissections. The laws 
of retribution — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth — already mentioned, 
prevented even the best physicians of the time from using surgical 
measures quickly. This to us unpardonable delay in treatment is shown 
in the case of Count Leopold of Austria who, in 1194, fell from his 
horse and suffered a compound fracture of the leg. His court physician 
dared not attempt to set the leg or to amputate it, although by the third 
day “the bone pierced the skin a hand’s span, and the leg was black.” 
Then the Count, in agony and fear, commanded a servant to pound 
three times with a hammer on a chisel which he himself held against 
the injured leg and so amputated the foot. It was too late by then to 
save his life; but the doctor was not blamed for his death, as he would 
have been had he died after an operation. 


T T OME life in this century was broken by three Crusades with their 
A deadly aftermath, but the crusading movement was not an entirely 
new thing in Europe when it was invigorated by the preaching of 
Peter the Hermit. In the earlier Middle Ages the Church per- 
mitted certain crimes to be expiated by gifts to it. Those who had 
no money or goods with which to pay for absolution might make 
amends by a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines at Jerusalem or to a 
famous cathedral like that of Santiago at Compostella in northern 
Spain. From the earliest Christian times people who could afford the 
long journey had been fired with pious zeal to go to Jerusalem as a 
penance or to fulfill a vow. Even a cask of Jordan water, or a sack of 
earth from the Mount of Olives had a large value in trade. Also 
Persian cloth or Damascus steel or jewels or embroideries were eagerly 
bought in the markets at home ; and the merchants who went for gain 
and the pilgrims who went for penance both brought home manuscripts 
of famous books, translations of ancient authors, and wondrous tales of 
the animals, stones, and plants in far-away countries. 

There was a burning desire in the hearts of belligerent Christians 
to drive the hated Mohammedans out of Palestine. The women were 
as fierce as the men. So, when the war cry of Peter the Hermit, Deus 


1 66 

il vult resounded over Europe, men and women answered the call by the 
thousands, for, although the priests tried to dissuade women from leaving 
their homes, they rushed with babes in their arms to win the absolution 
promised by Pope Urban to all who followed the Crusaders’ banner. 
Only a small remnant of this army lived even to reach Constantinople. 1 

The second Crusade was better organized than the first. It was 
started in 1145 by Bernard of Clairvaux, who died eight years later. 
Funds for the journey had been raised by Pope Eugenius, a friend of 
Hildegard and Bernard, by the sale of indulgences. The Crusaders 
this time came mostly from the regions around the Rhine. The Pope, 
Saint Bernard, and Henry, Archbishop of Mainz, met at Trier to plan 
the route; and when Hildegard’s “Scivias” (Know Thy Ways) was read 
to them, they felt that it was a message from the Lord urging them to 
begin the Crusade at once. She herself was so impressed with the 
prophetic mission of Saint Bernard that she called him “the eagle that 
looks at the sun.” He was nominally the head of this Crusade, although 
the army was led by Robert of Normandy. 

This army, like the first, consisted of all sorts and conditions of 
men, women and children. Women, whenever possible, rode on horse- 
back with their families, sometimes several on one poor animal. They 
wore long skirts and their finest garments and rode astride; in some cases 
they carried spears and shields like certain of the men. The leader of 
the women was called “the golden-footed dame,” and, according to un- 
authenticated stories, she was none other than Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 
queen of Louis VII of France, a handsome and learned but somewhat un- 
godly woman whose gallantries so shocked her husband as to give him 
cause to divorce her after they returned from Jerusalem. She was, how- 
ever, brave and fearless, a fine scholar whose medical studies, as we have 
seen, gave her the impetus to establish hospitals for the sick and wounded 
wherever she lived, and to care for the patients personally. It was said 
to be she who prompted the following lines from Spenser’s Faery Queene 
(III, 4, 1 ) , written long after her day. 

Where be the battailles, where the shield and speare, 

And all the conquests which them high did reare, 

Been they all dead, and laid in doleful herse? 

These followers of Saint Bernard stopped at Salerno for ships in 
which to make the journey to Constantinople, and there the medical 

1 It has been said that eight hundred thousand people were killed or died in 
the first Crusade, of whom only seventy thousand were Saracens. Great num- 
bers of Jews were also tortured and murdered by the Crusaders. 

c . 

The Ancient Dress of the Nursing Nuns of St. John of 


“A History of Nursing .”) 

(From Nutting nnrl Dock's 


women of the army came in contact with the famous medical women of 
the great medical school, to their undoubted advantage. We find the 
name of Hersende of Champagne among the travelers, with the title of 
maitresse fisicienne, one more proof that the women of the period took 
high rank in medical affairs. Hersende had charge of the lewd women 
and all the camp hangers-on who usually follow armies and play havoc 
with the health and morals of the soldiers. We can not but wonder if 
she was not a relative of the famous Hersende, abbess of Fontevrault, 
who taught medicine to her followers and attended the patients in the 
hospitals of the abbey, where, eventually, Queen Eleanor and her second 
husband and her son Richard the Lion Hearted, were buried. 

Of the thousands of Crusaders who left Germany in the second 
Crusade only about fifty thousand lived to reach Jerusalem, and, of 
these, but a pitiful handful ever returned to their homes. Doctors and 
surgeons, none of whom we know by name, must have been few by the 
time the army reached Constantinople, for we know that Conrad III, 
the emperor of Germany, one of the Crusaders, could get no medical 
attention until he reached Athens and the Greek physicians. 

In the third Crusade, in which we find Frederick Barbarossa, 
Richard the Lion Hearted, and Philip Augustus II of France, there 
seem to have been even fewer physicians and surgeons than in its pre- 
decessors. For, when the demoralized army reached Jerusalem, almost 
at the last extremity, it is said that physicians were sent to them by 
Saladin himself, their noble enemy. 

Unfortunately, the possession of holy relics and the prayers of the 
monks were not successful in staying epidemics or in healing wounds; 
and the need of hospital facilities for the Crusaders was, from the very 
first, so obvious that a maitress fisicienne like Hersende, and nurses like 
Edina Rittle and Agnes of the Knights of St. John were busy night and 
day in hastily improvised infirmaries in Jerusalem. 

Those Crusaders who reached Constantinople maimed or diseased 
received the best of care in its great asylums under the care of men and 
women doctors, including Queen Irene and her daughter Anna Comnena. 

Alexis Comnenos in 1081 had built a hospital of ten thousand beds 
in Constantinople where his brilliant daughter Anna 1 was physician in 
chief. Anna had studied medicine at her father’s court, and had be- 
come so proficient that she attended her father in his last illness, and 
presided at the consultations of his physicians. She wrote a book on 

1 Sarton, op. eit., vol. II, p. 137. 

1 68 


gout, a very common disease in those days of rich food and sweet wines. 
Sarton says that she was reputed to be able to “discuss the subject in- 
telligently” with the doctors, and that her history of her father’s reign 
is one of the most interesting books of the century. Alexis Comnenos 
died in 1118. When the hordes of pilgrims under Godfrey of Bouillon 
arrived in Constantinople Anna kept memoranda of their life, described 
their appearance and daily actions, and tended the sick in the hospital. 
Sarton calls her one of the four great medical writers of the twelfth 
century, the others being Hildegard, a German, Moses Maimonides, a 
Jew, and Averroes, an Arab. 

Anna Comnena’s sister-in-law, Bertha, in 1126, when she became 
queen, built another still larger hospital than that of Alexis, in order to 
have room for the sick or wounded pilgrims from the west. This was 
the famous Pantocrator, or general hospital. Each of its five divisions 
was under a medical woman, who further subdivided the work so that 
trained midwives cared for women in labor, nurses of both sexes did the 
ward work, and six surgeons, besides barbers and laymen, had charge 
of the accident and military cases. It is said that there were also con- 
sulting physicians visiting the patients once a week. Happily, we know 
the name of one woman who was for a time at the head of this great 
institution ; Edina Rittle, of Essex County, England. Whether she had 
been a Crusader, or how otherwise she happened to come to Constanti- 
nople, we do not know. 

Hallam 1 tells us that the first hospitals actually built for the cru- 
sading pilgrims were erected in Jerusalem by rich merchants from Amalfi 
and Salerno; but that soon there was so much sickness in the towns 
through which the Crusaders passed that hospitals were needed all along 
their routes to the Holy Land. Godfrey of Bouillon, of the first Cru- 
sade, who conquered Jerusalem in 1099, found its hospitals over-crowded, 
but that the patients were being well cared for by a woman " fisicienne" 
named Agnes, a member of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, an 
order which had just been founded to care for sick Crusaders in Jerusa- 
lem. 2 There are several medical women named Agnes among the mo- 
nastic women of the twelfth century, so that it has been impossible to 

1 Hallam, Henry, “The History of the Middle Ages,” vol. I, p. 54. 

2 This order was moved to Acre after the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 
1187, then to Cyprus in 1291, to Rhodes in 1310, and to Malta in 1530. During 
the Great War of 1914-18 women doctors from England were sent to this 
old hospital in Malta to care for the sick and wounded soldiers. See also 
Charles Mills, “History of the Crusades,” vol. I, 1828, p. 138. Also Melanie 
Lipinska, “ Histoire dea femmes midecina,” 1900, p. 262. 


identify this particular one. Members of the Knights of St. John wore 
a black gown with a large white cross on the shoulder. 1 We are told 2 
that, during the Crusades, there was not a potentate in Christendom who 
had not some Hospitalers in his Council. We are told of a Sister 
Ubaldina of Pisa who was “mother of the poor, the restorer of the sick, 
the comforter of the stricken-hearted ; there was no kind of misery for 
which she had not a remedy or consolation”; 3 while the king of Hungary 
said of their work: “Lodging in their houses I have seen them every 
day .... lay the sick in good beds and treat them with great care.” We 
are told, of the hospital of St. Gall in Switzerland, that those in charge 
were gentle and sympathetic with the sufferers, no matter how dirty or 
how much infested with vermin ; and that they went from patient to 
patient with hot plates for cold feet, cooling lotions for the feverish 
heads, and soothing drinks for those in pain. In a way they were like 
the trained nurses of today except that no physician dictated to them 
what to do for their patients. 

Although conditions in many of the hospitals of the period were 
deplorable, all historians testify to the kindness and sympathy of the 
Hospitallers with the sick and hungry and ragged of the hospitals of the 
Order. Some years after the time of Agnes and her work in Jerusalem 
we find that men appear to be the only physicians and supervisors. A 
knight was Infirmarian. He visited the patients every day. Two other 
knights attended to the food, provided nursing, bandages, clothing, and 
gave the patients baths and anointed them if necessary. A paid physician 
was at the hospital every day. Whether there were medical schools con- 
nected with any of these hospitals we are not told. 

Archbishop Lanfranc and the monk Rahere had established quasi 
private hospitals where the sick were well treated and their care-takers 
(nurses) decently housed and fed, but, on the other hand, in Paris the 
cathedral hospital of Notre Dame, maintained by the Church as the 
Hotel Dieu , was anything but comfortable either for patients or attend- 
ants, and the Augustinian Sisters were veritable slaves. They had no 
liberty, no comforts, no education, and they were vowed to obedience, 

1 Another Crusaders’ Order, the Knights Templars, had its beginning in 
Burgundy in 1119 to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Their 
gowns bore a red cross. They were soon to become the greatest financiers 
among the Christians. The Order was dissolved in A.D. 1312 by Clement V, 
only to be re-formed; but Sarton says (vol. II, p. 101) that their subsequent 
trials paved the way for the witch trials and inquisitions of the following 

2 Nutting and Dock, “History of Nursing,” 1907, pp. 186 ff. 

3 Quoted from Sutherland, “Knights of Malta,” p. 105. 



poverty, and humility. Their only satisfaction was in their belief that 
the harder they worked the more credit they would have in Heaven. 
Patients were crowded into the beds four or six in each, regardless of 
disease, the living with the dying. Their laundry was washed by the 
nuns in the cold water of the Seine that flowed past the hospital walls. 
I he doctors, moreover, w r ere men with scanty education and less sympa- 
thy either for patients or nurses, and since the diagnosis of disease de- 
pended merely upon the appearance of the patient or of his urine or the 
rapidity of his pulse, treatment was not complicated, so that a medical 
visit need not have been long. There was nothing of experimental 
medicine allowed at that time, for the Church continued to uphold the 
traditions of Galen. Logic and hair-splitting controversies governed all 
religious teaching, and nobody was bold enough to deny the assertions 
of the astrologers as to the will of the Almighty or the wiles of the Evil 
One, and since the leaders of the Crusades were urging the Christians 
to torture and annihilate Jews and Saracens and heretics wherever they 
could be found, human life was cheap indeed. As a matter of course, 
therefore, mountebanks and tricksters flourished among the gullible 
crowds. They extracted teeth, set bones, treated sore eyes, and removed 
cataracts in the market places, and must have done inestimable harm 
among the Crusaders as well as among the people through whose towns 
they went. 

M iss Nutting says that in only one instance is a woman mentioned 
as living outside the hospital. She had charge of anointing the cases of 
scurvy; 1 and is described as “elderly and experienced.” The “anointing” 
mentioned was, we are told, with mercury. Whether this was a treat- 
ment for syphilis or actual scurvy we are not certain. 


T7ROM our point of view it is to be regretted that the Arabs and the 
Jews of the southern Europe of the Middle Ages incurred the 
enmity of the Church, and suffered its persecutions, for whatever progress 
was made in art and architecture and science after the Arabs settled in 
Spain and crept into southern Italy, was mainly due to them arid the 
Jew’s. These incomers from Persia, Egypt, Syria, and North Africa, 

1 Nutting and Dock, vo). I, p. 200. 



under the rule of the Lombards as well as under their own rulers, lived 
fairly peaceably in Spain for four hundred years. 

In A.D. 941 the Arabs had introduced their numerals into Europe, 
and by the twelfth century they had become famous as copyists and 
translators of manuscripts in many languages. While the rest of Europe 
was half barbarian they were establishing public libraries, colleges and 
hospitals on a magnificent scale. Yet it can not be said that they were 

Obstetrics in the 12th Century 

(Note the woman doctor and nurse.) 

original investigators, or great artists. They were borrowers in medicine 
as well as in art. But Thorndike remarks 1 that, even though in medicine 
they made few original observations, their preservation of the works of 
Galen and Aristotle, which hitherto “were little more than respectable 
traditions,” gives them claim to our thanks. 

1 Thorndike, Lynn, “Magic and Experimental Science,” vol. II, p. 204. 



It is a pity that, of all the books written in the Middle Ages, com- 
paratively few remain. The early Christians had burned the libraries 
of the Greeks at Alexandria. The Arabs destroyed Christian books in 
their religious zeal (although they later made large amends for this 
vandalism by searching out manuscripts in private libraries and trans- 
lating them into Arabic or Hebrew). Then the Church began to dis- 
cover heresies in every newly written page, and sought to destroy the 
book and torture its writer to death. In these ways we may have lost 
many a manuscript written by nameless women doctors. 

Among the Muslim doctors we know of only two by name. 
They were the daughter and granddaughter of Avenzoar, or Ibn Zuhr, 
who belonged to the greatest medical family of Mohammedan Spain in 
the first part of the twelfth century, and perhaps we may even say he 
was the most distinguished physician in Europe. 1 Avenzoar himself 
was born in Seville in 1091 or 1094; was a follower of Galen rather than 
of the Arabic traditions; was physician to the Sultan, and a writer of 
medical books on every subject except gynecology. He died in 1162, 
leaving sons and daughters to carry on his work ; in fact there were seven 
generations of medical men and women in this one Mohammedan family. 
It is said that one son of Avenzoar, and one granddaughter, a midwife, 
were killed by poison — possibly in retribution for the death of some 
patient. The works of Avenzoar were copied and translated into Hebrew 
and Latin and used for five hundred years and were among the first of 
the Venetian incunabula. 2 

If further proof were needed that there were medical women 
among the Arabs, we find the statement of Albucasis in his De Chirurgia, 
that, if a woman suffers from calculus, she must have an able woman 
surgeon attend her (" mulierem medicam praestanteiri ) ; and that, if this 
is not possible owing to their being too few specially trained in such 
surgery, then a “moral man doctor accompanied by a mulier obstetrix ," s 
Avicenna also cited one woman doctor who was an eye surgeon ; and 
Nicaise says that Arab women continued for many years to practice 
medicine and teach not only in Salerno but in many cities of Italy. 

If we may judge from the pomp and dignity of the Muslim phy- 
sicians in Morocco today, we need not wonder that they were highly 
impressive to their contemporaries in the twelfth century. 4 Their 

1 Sarton, vol. II, p. 231, ff. 

2 Singer, Charles, “From Magic to Science,” p. 80, 1928. 

3 Nicaise, F,., “La Grande Chiru rrjie de Guy de Chauliac,’’ p. LXII1, LXIV, 

4 Leclerc, Lucien, “Histoire de la midecine Arabe,” 2 vols., 1876. 



voluminous turbans, silken robes, and damask coats with flowing sleeves 
were greatly admired, and their dignified bearing and air of deep con- 
templation must have inspired their patients with confidence in their 

Mohammedan women doctors, on the other hand, with faces veiled, 
can have inspired no such admiration, but the Jewish women were under 
no restrictions as to their costumes and may have been as handsomely 
dressed as the men and as imposing. It is said that they all charged 
enormous fees. It is probable that these physicians had well trained 
slaves to accompany them on their visits and do the laborious work of 
preparing their drugs. 

Sir Richard Burton, 1 in his translation of the “Thousand and One 
Nights,” tells us the story of such an Arabic slave girl who knew 
so much of medicines and diseases that none of the medical teachers 
could confuse her with their questions. She had studied the whole of 
Galen’s works, astrology, the humoral theories, and whatever was then 
taught of anatomy and surgery, which veins to open for bleeding, what 
were the remedies for poisons, et cetera, — as well as the Seven Liberal 
Arts, and Aristotle, and Christian theology or the Jewish Talmud. 
This remarkable slave girl’s name was Tawaddud. She shows us at 
least what subjects were studied by the greatest scholars in the Middle 
Ages, and whether the story is founded on fact or not it is very enlight- 

Among the Jews of this century women physicians were in great 
demand ; the Christians had special confidence in Jewish eye doctors and 
surgeons, male and female, although, as we have seen, Jews in general 
abhorred surgery and the Church refused to allow any Christian to 
employ a Jew. 

A Jewish physician was called a “rusticus” or “ chirurgus.” Neu- 
burger (p. 318, op. cit. ) tells us that the Jews were considered the best 
practitioners in the twelfth century as well as the equal of the Arabs in 
translating manuscripts from Greek or Latin into Hebrew or Arabic. 
They left all the midwifery to their women. Whether the Jewish 
medical women were named Mary, or Rebecca, or Phoebe, or Zipporah, 
the women of the Bible were their prototypes. 

The Jews seem to have differentiated fevers, digestive disturbances, 
and brain disorders better than the Christian physicians. Among their 

1 Burton, Sir Richard, The Thousand Nights and a Night, The story of Ahul 
and his Slave Girl, 1885-88, vol. V, p. 189. 

1 74 


remedies are cabbage, beets, camomile, rennet, and such organs as the 
uterus and liver of animals, and certain portions of fishes. Their sur- 
geons had scalpels, bistouries, trephines, lancets, cups, probes, gouges, saws, 
tenacula and dilators. T hey sucked poisoned wounds and cauterized 
bleeding points. They were taught to keep their hands away from wounds 
lest they cause inflammation, but they still believed in ‘‘laudable” pus. 

Although gynecology and obstetrics were left entirely to the women, 
they understood the use of the vaginal speculum and midwifery instru- 
ments as taught by the women of Salerno. They were patient and 
sympathetic with patients in pain, and carried out the rules of medical 
etiquette laid down long before by Hippocrates. 


W HEN we try to imagine the life of women in the twelfth century 
we must remember that a cell in a nunnery was probably as com- 
fortable as the great hall at home, and that a life among other cloistered 
women, each busy in her chosen way, was less irksome than the daily 
routine of the average castle or farm. 

Women who chose to enter a nunnery in those days were not 
obliged to take vows in perpetuity, nor to wear a special costume, nor 
to remain within their convent all day long. Nor was the asceticism of 
the nunneries as perfect in practice as in theory. That at Amesburv 
was so flagrantly immoral that its personnel was sent in a body to 
Fontevrault in exchange for a group of French nuns who were more 
reputable. The favorite mistress of Henry II, the “fair Rosamond,” 
was one of the nuns of Godstow priory. 

In fact often monastic life during the Crusades may have 
been almost gay. Each sister and every monk had daily duties in some 
department of the institution, under a cellarer or cook or pharmacist or 
teacher or hospital attendant. In the sewing department, especially in 
England, the embroideries and altar cloths were beautifully made. Fine 
tapestries were made by the nuns to hang on the walls of castles and 
cathedrals and parish churches. We read descriptions of these beautiful 
hangings written by Chretien de Troyes who lived (1160-1172) at the 
court of the Countess Marie and must have seen many of the works of 
art which he describes. 

These new cultural developments were one of the results of the 


Crusades. With the stories brought back by pilgrims and merchants a 
new world was opened to those who stayed at home. New books came 
from Salerno and Monte Cassino, fresh translations from the Greek and 
Arabic. Both men and women wore elaborate jewelry, with either 
imitation or real gems, and the chest-bands, buckles, and twelfth century 
rings of men and women seen in the museums today are marvels of 
workmanship. Of the women’s finery we read : 

She had two rings on her right hand 
And three she had on her left, 

And she had a wimple perfumed with saffron, 

Which she had worked of silk. 

When they travelled we find that they went about on gaily capari- 
soned mules or horses, wearing a full cloak aver a saffron or other 
colored gown. 

We have noted that many royal women of the twelfth century 
devoted a part of their time at least to the care of the sick. Mention 
has already been made of the medical skill of Queen Margaret of Scot- 
land, whose daughter, Matilda, according to Walter Map, was the 
“Holy Queen,” 1 wife of Henry I, of England, and the “good Queen 
Maud” of many centuries. It was she who founded the old hospital of 
Saint Giles in-the-Fields in London (1101) where she personally cared 
for the patients and wiped the feet of lepers with her hair. This hospital 
cared for any sick person as well as lepers. Matilda had studied medi- 
cine at a Wessex monastery, where she also learned to write and speak 
Latin fluently. Even after she had married she said that her heart was 
still with the sick. She died in 1118, 2 and by her will she endowed 
several hospitals and religious houses. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was the daughter and grand- 
daughter of French crusaders, so that it is not surprising to find her 
starting out with her husband, Louis VII of France, for the second 
Crusade preached so eloquently by Saint Bernard. Tradition says that 
she raised a troop of armed ladies and rode at their head. Divorced 
from Louis she soon married Henry II of England (crowned 1154), 
who by the marriage claimed that his kingdom stretched from the Ork- 
neys to the Pyrenees. She had ten children by her two husbands and 
became the ancestor of many kings and queens. One of the most learned 
women of her century, our interest in her centers in the fact that she built 

1 Eckenstein, op. cit., p. 290, quoted from Migne, vol. 159. 

2 Ibid, p. 209. 



hospitals and personally cared for the patients, and in the medical inter- 
ests of her numerous descendants . 1 

Berengaria, wife of Alfonso IX of Leon, was another twelfth 
century queen noted for her medical knowledge. During her life five 
great monasteries were in existence in various parts of Spain, and the 
abbess of one of them, Las Huelgas, is recorded as having ably com- 
bined the duties of priest and physician, a very convenient role if she 
arrived opportunely at a time of birth or death. It is also said that 
Agnes, Countess of Aix, the prioress at another of the Spanish monas- 
teries at this time, “treated the sick with pious care.” 

In Italy Capparoni found, among twelfth century records of 
Salerno, the names of Berdefolia Medica, and A della of the Saracins, 
or Saracinesca family, both of whom were probably lay teachers of the 
medical faculty there. It is hoped that more records will come to light 
of the Salernitan school, and of the school built by Queen Bertha of 
Greece in Constantinople for the first crusaders. She was wife of 
Comnenus II. Her sister-in-law, Anna Comnena, was most skilled in 
medicine and was physician in chief at the great Pantocrator hospital. 


A LTHOUGH the twelfth century was the century of great monas- 
teries, as well as of the Crusades and of chivalry, the monasteries of 
England were not so good as they had been, nor were their abbesses and 
prioresses as strict in discipline, nor the nuns as moral or devout as 
those of France and Germany . 2 3 We recall that the Empress Matilda 

1 Queen Eleanor’s grand daughters, Blanche of France and Castile, 1188-1252, 
and Urraca of Portugal, were both so well educated in medicine that they 
likewise founded and worked in hospitals in Spain as well as in France. 
Her daughter Isabel was also noted for her medical skill. She founded the 

monastery of the Poor Clares, near Paris, and died in 1269. Among the other 
famous descendants of Blanche was her granddaughter Hedwig (1174-1243), 
the patron saint of Poland, who was married at the age of thirteen to Heinrich 
the Bearded, the Polish king. She had six children, all of them exceedingly 
religious. She built many monastic institutions and hospitals where she and 
her children personally cared for the sick and fed the hungry. Hedwig was 
canonized in 1267 ; but, while her memory is revered in Poland as one of more 
than human knowledge and kindness, her family, as Virchow has said, became 
extinguished because of its extreme asceticism. One of the legends of Hedwig 
tells us that “with wonderful tenderness she cared for those afflicted with 
bodily ills, and her affections melted towards the poor and infirm whom she 
tended with great love.” In her pictures we see a well-nourished woman, 
simply clad, among several nuns in gray or blue gowns and black head- 

3 Power, Eileen, “Medieval English Nunneries,” 1922, p. 289. 


and her mother Margaret had been taken from monastic institutions to 
marry, and this was true of many noble women who ably carried on 
affairs of state after having been educated in convents. It made little 
difference with the husband that his wife had at one time w T orn the veil, 
and the sin of discarding it for matrimony was easily forgiven by the 
archbishops. Moreover, it was perhaps easier for rich women who 
understood the theory and practice of medicine to find patients and build 
hospitals for them when out in the world than when in an institution. 

The rule of Saint Benedict as to the sin of idleness was translated 
into English for those who could not understand Latin: 

“All that wons in religioun 
aw to haue sum oeupacioun, 
outher in kirk or hali bedes, 
or stodying in oder stedes; 
ffor ydilnes, as sais sant paul 
es grete enmy unto the soul.” 

— Quoted from Eekenstein, p. 354 . 

But the standard of education in the English religious houses at this 
time was beginning to be lowered. It was cramped in method, and in- 
sufficient in application, says Eekenstein (op. cit. p. 356). Devotional 
interests were cultivated to the exclusion of many other subjects, and 
service books, the Bible and legends of the saints were what the nuns 
and also monks generally read or copied. They were taught some 
French but less Latin; in fact French was used in England as the spoken 
language more than English. As in France, there were certain infirma- 
ries connected with the English monasteries where the sisters were taught 
to care for the sick members, pilgrims and guests, and from the twelfth 
to the fifteenth centuries there was a famous hospital at the monastery 
of Sion, now Sheen, on the T. hames near London, 1 where the abbesses 
taught medicine and nursing to the nuns and deputed some of them f 01- 
in firmary affairs. One such abbess warned them to be gentle and patient 
with the sick, often to change their beds and clothes, and give them 
medicine regularly, also to minister to them meat and drink, fire and 
water, and all other necessaries day and night “after the counsel of the 
physicians and precepts of the sovereign”; “not to be squeamish in bathing 
them, nor “impatient with those who vomit or have the flux, or are 
crazy, for some sickness vexes the sick so greatly .... that the matter 
drawn up to the brain alienates the mind.” 

It was France, however, which seemed to set the fashion in the 

1 “Myroure of Oure Ladye,” Introduction, p. 29, Eekenstein, pp. 393-394. 

i 7 8 


development of monasteries during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, 
as it also inaugurated here and there brilliant fetes and pageants to 
brighten the gloom of the families of the Crusaders. Tiraquellus 1 tells 
us that during this time women studied medicine in every part of Gaul 
in order to become good Samaritans, and that they traveled over their 
own country, as well as to Spain and Africa, wherever they were told 
that there was special sickness and suffering. They healed the gravest 
diseases and wounds, gathered herbs, tended midwifery cases, and some- 
times lived alone in huts or trunks of trees to study or teach their pupils, 
all because of religious zeal. 2 

On the other hand, there were frivolous women to whom the little 
freedom from parental government and the reaction from the worries of 
the Crusades brought a wild orgy of sexual debauch, especially if they 
had been married by force, or virtually sold to men whom they could 
not love. Women who thus burst from the obscurity of their homes 
knew no restraint ; and, if they were detected in immorality, the Church, 
for a consideration, would grant them indulgences for “such weakness 
of the flesh,” and a nearby monastery would hide them for a time. 

One of the most famous monasteries of France was that at Fonte- 
vrault founded in iioi, by Robert of Arbrissel, a traveling evangelist. 
He decided to found an institution for men and women and to place a 
woman at its head, “because,” said he, “Christ when dying placed his 
beloved John under the care of his mother,” and also because, as he said, 
Martha who was always busy “was the type of woman preferred by 
Jesus.” 3 This abbey soon became famous for the great number of royal 
women and men under its rule. 

The first abbess of Fontevrault was Saint Petronilla. She “lived 
piously, governed sternly, and died holy.” Others “directed by their 
counsel, favored by their prayers, and developed by their skill the great- 
est civilizing movements of the world.” When Robert died, in 1 1 1 7, 
he appointed a certain Hersende abbess. Evidently she was a good 
manager, for, before her death, she was Superior over five daughter- 
houses also, where were grouped as many as five thousand men and 
women. Four hundred other institutions, modelled after Fontevrault, 
were established during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, where rich 
and poor, sick or well, pure women and prostitutes were received, lodged, 

1 Tiraquellus, “De Nobilitate,” 1566, p. 310. 

2 Langlois, Ernest, “Origines et Sources du Roman de la Rose,” 1891. 

3 Abb6, Edouard, “Fontevrault et ses Monuments,” p. 151. 


fed, and cared for. It must have taken good planning to provide food 
for so large a company at a time when it took 120 acres of land to feed 
a single average family. 

Naturally there was much sickness at Fontevrault, and many 
patients requiring definite hospital care. Among those needing isolation 
were one hundred and twenty lepers whose sores had to be washed daily. 
There were prostitutes to shelter, and midwifery cases. Foundlings were 
by no means uncommon, and illegitimate babies were not rare even in 
monastic institutions. 

Conditions at Fontevrault were typical of those in all the monaster- 
ies of France all through the twelfth century. By the end of the incum- 
bency of Matilda, the sixth abbess, more than five thousand people were 
living under her jurisdiction in Fontevrault alone. It was during her 
time that Henry II (died 1189), Richard the Lion Hearted (died 
1199), his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (died 1204), his sister, and 
many worn-out Crusaders were buried in the great domed abbey church, 
where their tombs may be seen today. The kitchen and some of the 
other original buildings of the abbey have also been restored, and medical 
women should visit the famous abbey as a pilgrimage to the shrines of 
those French medical abbesses of the twelfth century. 

Fontevrault, however, was not the only religious institution where 
medicine and religion were skilfully combined under an abbess. Per- 
haps the hermitage at Paraclete, in Champagne, was as famous in its 
day, for it was there that Heloise lived and taught medicine and theol- 
ogy to her nuns, healed the sick, and wrote letters to her beloved 
husband, Abelard. 

Heloise (1 101-1164) was probably the most learned woman doctor 
of France in the twelfth century. To give, even in outline, the 
story of her love for Abelard would lead us too far afield, but it may 
be said that when Abelard, a nobleman from Nantes, was forty years 
old he went to Paris and became the tutor of the brilliant Heloise, who 
was then only eighteen. Although stubbornly insisting on the general 
inferiority of women, and laying great emphasis on their humble sub- 
mission to men, he admired the intellectual abilities of his pupil and 
placed her above most men in character and learning. He was, however, 
the very antithesis of the gentle girl whom he bent entirely to his will. 
They were married secretly, and when this was discovered both the 
Church and the relatives of Heloise punished him brutally and insisted 
upon their living apart for the rest of their lives. Abelard died in 
X142, and Heloise in 1164. Their graves are in the cemetery of Perc 
Lachaise in Paris. 



Heloise had been well educated as a girl in Paris. She was not 
only an enthusiastic student but sensitive to beauty and responsive to 
teaching. Abelard gave her what would now be regarded as a graduate 
course in medicine, surgery, theology, and philosophy. For twenty years 
after their separation and the death of Abelard she taught and practiced 
medicine at the hermitage of Paraclete, built bv his disciples for their 
master, who established her and her nuns there in his place. 1 Because 
there were no monks at Paraclete, Abelard acknowledged that there were 
reasons why “women should have as good a knowledge of medicine as 
men.” We have not been accustomed to think of either Heloise, or her 
lover, as physicians ; but evidently they knew more about disease and its 
treatment than most of the men or women of the twelfth century. We 
can not, however, but blame Abelard for his attitude toward women in 
general. It has been said that it was he who accomplished the closing 
of the universities to women students and thus retarded their develop- 
ment for many centuries. He believed that no lay person should have 
a university education. 

Turning now to the abbeys of Germany in the twelfth century 
and their heads, we find several women as remarkable as those of France, 
and among them one who easily stands above the medical men of the 
age, in originality at least. This latter was Hildegard (1098-1179) of 
Bingen — of whom more later. Among Hildegard’s friends and ac- 
quaintances were Elizabeth of Schonau 2 3 , born in 1129, who founded a 
Benedictine nunnery near Trier, where she died in 1165. She was 
famous for her visions and prophecies. But little is known to historians 
about her medical skill and kindness to the poor and sick, although she 
became a magistra in 1 1 5 7 • It was she who spread abroad the almost 
forgotten story of Saint E rsula and the eleven thousand virgins, and she 
became known to fame more as a writer and sibyl than as a medical 
woman, pretending, as she did, to understand the ways of the Lord by 
means of prophetic visions. 

The women of the royal families of Andech and Meran, in eastern 
Germany, or rather in Silesia 2 , were all educated to care for the sick. 
Among them, as we have already seen, was Hedwig of Silesia who was 
born in 1174. She was sent to Kissingen for an education in the convent 
of Franken, was married in 1186, and became the mother of six children. 

1 Wheeler, Ethel Rolt, “Women of Cell and Cloister, 1913, p. 16 . 

2 Eckenstein, pp. 256 ff., and F. W. Roth, “Die Visionen der heil. Elizabeth , 
und die Sc-hriften von Ekbert und Emecho von Schonmi’’ 1884. 

3 Aekermann, Joanne Christian Gottlieb, “Institutiones Histone Medicinae, 

1792, p. 341. 


She founded several hospitals, where the members of her family all tended 
the sick. She also founded a leper hospital and one or more Cistercian 
nunneries. Her sister, Agnes, married Philip Augustus of France, and 
another sister, Gertrude, became the mother of the beautiful Saint Eliza- 
beth of Hungary. Her daughters-in-law, Anna and Agnes, were both 
famous in the following century for their medical skill. 

Another famous German medical woman of this century, and also a 
friend of Saint Hildegard, was Herrade of Landsberg, abbess of Hohen- 
burg in Alsace. 1 In 1167 she was already noted as a teacher of the entire 
Trivium and Quadrivium as well as of medicine and other sciences. She 
wrote one of the earliest encyclopedias of plants and their uses, called the 
'Hortus deliciarum” or “Garden of Delight,” in which she shows an 
enormous range of knowledge. In 1187 she built a large hospital in her 
monastery at which she was physician in chief. Singer suggests that her 
medical knowledge came from the same sources as Hildegard’s, mainly 
Salernitan, together with the old work of Isidor of Seville on drugs. 

Hohenburg is in the Vosges mountains, 2500 feet above the sea on 
Mt. St. Odilia, between Basel and Mainz; and Herrade’s abbey was 
surrounded by other monasteries and castles. Around the top of the 
mountain ran an encircling wall which in earlier times had enclosed an 
altar to one of the Roman gods. When Herrade ruled the monastery 
forty-seven nuns lived there, not distinguishable from the villagers by 
their dress except for a white cap and veil. Her magnum opus was 
written in Latin on 324 pages of parchment with 636 colored drawings. 
Besides describing plants and their preparation for medicinal purposes, 
it retold the stories of the Bible, with illustrations of its people dressed 
in the modes of her own time. This priceless volume was destroyed in 
1870 during the siege of Strasburg, a few pages only being recovered and 
reprinted in facsimile in 1901. 2 Fortunately, it had been partly copied 
at an earlier time. She died in 1195. 

1 Herrad of Landsberg, “Hortus deliciarum,” Eckenstein, pp. 238 ff. Roth, 
K. L., “Der Odilienberg,” Alsatia, vol. I, pp. 91 ff„ 1856. Wiegand, All- 
gemeine Deutsche Biographie,” Art. lielind. Engelhardt, " Herrad von Lands- 
berg und ihr Werk.” 1818. Herrade de Landsberg, “Hortus deliciarum.” 
Soc. pour la Conservation des Monuments historique d’Alsace. 1901. This 
contains several hundred plates reproduced from the original, mainly Biblical 
and ecclesiastical. There is a picture of Herrade, standing, holding a placard 
containing her address to the community, “O white flowers, pure as the snow 

may your course be directed always toward heaven.” There are also 

pictures of “possessed” from whom the evil spirit is departing, etc., also a dia- 
gram showing the relation of the planets to the brain. 

2 Sarton, p. 389, op. cit. 



Among the lesser known abbesses of Herrade’s time were Gertrude 
of Robersdorf, whose night visions were almost as vivid as the day visions 
of Hildegard; Gertrude, Countess Palatine, abbess of Nivelle; Lioba of 
Fulda; and Otageba, Heilka and Gisel of St. Paul’s convent at Regens- 
burg, all of whom were also “seers and psychic healers.” 1 

In the Far North the influence of the Crusades was far less marked 
than in the South, but even in Scandinavia the twelfth century brought 
an impetus to art, architecture, literature, and geography, though perhaps 
little to the science of medicine (except surgery). These countries also 
had monastic institutions, but they were more like religious retreats 

Probably the Earliest Picture of a Caesarian Section 

(From an edition of Suetonius : “I)e Vita duodecim Caesarvm.” Venice, 1510.) 

for pious men and women than like schools where medicine and the arts 
might be taught. 

From archeological remains and written records of the Scandi- 
navian peninsula and Iceland we can form some idea of the medical 
knowledge and practice in those countries in the Viking Age. Sigrid 
Undset, herself an archeologist, in her Nobel Prize volume, Kristin 
Lavransdatter ( 1922), has given us a glimpse of the everyday life of the 

1 Weinhold, Carl, “Die Deutschen Frauen in dem Mittelalter” vol. I, p. 68 


day. Only women and priests had to do with the care of the sick ; but, 
while the priests were supposed to cure their patients by the relics of 
St. Olaf, the women, as elsewhere in Europe all through the Middle 
Ages, collected herbs, attended women in labor, set bones, soothed patients 
in fever and pain, and even treated the insane. When Kristin’s babies 
were born, all the married women of the parish crowded with her into the 
rude outhouse where she knelt in pain. Certain ones took turns in 
holding her on her knees on the floor, others prepared fresh stiaw for 
her bed, others made hot teas to hasten labor. After the birth of the 
baby one of the most experienced women greased and washed it while 
another reported to the father the sex of the child and swore that it was 
not a changeling substituted for his own offspring that might have died 
in birth. 1 


VX 7 HAT have been called “the greatest scientific works of the Middle 
' Ages,” were written by the Abbess Hildegard of the Rhine country. 
Her “Liber Subtilitatum,” “De Simplicis Medicinae,” and “Causae et 
Curae,” in originality 2 were in many respects years, even centuries, ahead 
of her time. Hildegard was, moreover, a philosopher, politician, and 
prophet. She foretold the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire which 
had been so carefully built up by Charlemagne; she predicted the Re- 
formation as the result of the corruption of the clergy, and she fore- 
shadowed also the true theories of the circulation of the blood, the causes 
of contagion and of auto-intoxication, the transmissibility of nerve action 
from the brain, the chemistry of the blood. She also tried to explain 
various other human phenomena without continual reference to the 
humoral theories of her time. 

The most independent and learned of all medical women, Hilde- 

1 That many women died in childbed during this period is well known. 
If the labor were unduly prolonged, or if meddlesome midwifery had seriously 
infected the mother, there was nothing to do but bury the poor woman, having 
first removed the baby by Caesarian section or piece-meal. Such deaths were 
not peculiar to any one country nor to the common people. Schultz (a) tells 
us that Queen Constance, first wife of Louis VII, in 1152 died when her baby 
Adelaide was born; and lie also mentions the fact that Blanchefleur, mother of 
Tristram, died in labor and the living baby was taken by Caesarian section 
after her death, many witnesses being crowded into the lving-in room. 

(a) Alwin Schultz, “Das Hofische Leben zur Zeit der Minnesinger,” vol. I, 
p. 144, 1889. 

1 Reuss, who wrote the article on Hildegard in Migne’s Patrologia says that 
her “Liber Subtilitatum” is the most valuable record of natural science and 
medical knowledge in the Middle Ages, scientifically considered. 



gard was the head of a small nunnery on a hilltop above the German 
Rhine. But, though she ruled a community of only fifty nuns, she 
dictated to popes, emperors, and kings the courses of action they should 
take. Her life almost spans the century; and her medical works and 
writings have come to be accepted as the most important Latin scientific 
contributions produced in Europe during this period . 1 Although Hilde- 
gard never went to Salerno to study and probably not to the new medical 
schools then forming in Paris and Montpellier, she must at least have 
had copies of the medical texts used at Salerno. She seemed to know 
little of Arabic medicine except by hearsay, for she used few Arabic 

Even Hildegard’s anatomical knowledge was conjectural, coming 
from the fanciful drawings of earlier centuries in which a big round 
heart is pictured upside down in the chest, the abdomen is shaped like a 
doughnut containing a coil of tubes, the bones are like jackstraws piled 
to balance a great moon-like head with enormous rows of teeth. In other 
pictures the spinal cord looks like a rope of braided hair divided at its 
lower parts into two strands, one for each leg; the liver appears to be 
the most important organ of the body, while the lungs are scarcely seen ; 
the aorta is a mere tube invading each portion of the body with its 
branches; and the eyes frequently are crossed, showing perhaps that 
the early anatomists had some hazy notion of their connection with 
the brain. 

Hildegard was born in 1098 at Boeckelheim, not many miles from 
Bingen on the Rhine, the youngest of a large family belonging to the 
nobility. She was sent to a convent at the age of eight to study with 
her aunt, Yutta, who was abbess of the institution at Disibodenburg on 
the Nahe river, a few miles south of her home. Here she began to have 
the curious day dreams, preceded by flashes of lightning, of which she 
wrote in her books. (She was probably a victim of migraine or epileptic 
attacks or perhaps of catalepsy, or hysteria.) Though far from well, she 
learned to write and read German, and to speak a little Latin. Her 
companions said that even as a child, “Hildegard miraculously cured all 
diseases.” When she was thirty years old she was chosen to succeed her 
aunt as head of the convent. She then began to write the series of 

1 Tiraquellus, “De Nobilitate,” pp. 310 ft'., 1566. Thorndike, “Magic and 
Experimental Science,” vol. II, p. 124 ft. Theodoric et Godefroid, 1556, “Vie 
de Sainte Hildegarde,” pub. Paris, 1907. Ilildegardis, “Causae et Curae /’ 
edidit Paulus Kaiser, 1903. Pitra, “ Liber Coirvpositae Medicinae de Aegri- 
tudinem causis, signis, atque curis,” p. 468, 1882. Franche, Paul, Les Saints 
Series, Sainte Hildegarde,” p. 1&4 etc., 1913. Singer, Charles, “From Magic 
to Science,” 1928, ppl 199-239. The Library at Wiesbaden has two manuscripts 
of Hildegard’s works. 



medical and psychological treatises, hymns, prophecies, and religious 
instructions for which she is famous. 

Of her visions she said that they came when she was awake and 
yet not altogether alive, and she continues, “My body seethed as in a pot. 
For years the Cherubim pursued me with a flaming sword .... until at 
length my spirit revived within me, and my body was restored again to 
its veins and marrow, and thus was I healed.” She said that she some- 
times felt like a jug filled with the Holy Spirit, talking, writing, or act- 
ing under angelic influences and that at such times she was able to give 
absent treatment to the sick, the blind, and the dumb, and those in fever. 
Her contemporaries, with fervent belief in her spiritual gifts, evidently 
encouraged her in these visions and miracles until years later, when she 
somewhat outgrew such ecstacies, and became, as we should say, quite 
sane and practical. 

In 1147, when about fifty years old, Hildegard and some of her 
followers were allowed by Heinrich, the Archbishop of Mainz and 
friend of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, to build a new convent at Ruperts- 
berg in the hills across the Rhine from Bingen, where they hoped to 
have more peace than at Disibodenberg. There they lived for forty 
years among the terraced vineyards of that beautiful country where they 
were visited by royalty and clergy, abbesses and monks, and especially by 
Saint Bernard 1 who regarded Hildegard as a prophetess of great power. 
From Rupertsberg Hildegard corresponded with four popes and five 
emperors and kings, among them Conrad III and Frederick Barbarossa, 
and the kings of England and France. She apparently had great in- 
fluence over the affairs of both church and state. 2 She also traveled 
widely in Germany and France, visiting monasteries and other church 
institutions, teaching medicine and theology, and giving advice to abbesses 
and prioresses and nuns. For their use she invented a new language,, 
a sort of combination of easy Latin and German. Some biographers say 
that Hildegard went to Rome to visit and reprimand the Pope, others 
say that she went to Paris to warn Louis VII about his kingdom, but 
these journeys to foreign countries are denied by others. None deny, 
however, that she was an indefatigable letter writer and teacher, taking 
long trips — on horseback of course — accompanied by a troop of nuns and 
servants, a rather strenuous matter for a woman nearly eighty 

1 Saint Bernard died in 1153. 

2 Saint Bernard, Pope Eugenius and the Archbishop of Mainz used Hilde- 
gard’s “Scivias” as an inspiration for the second Crusade. 

1 86 


years old. 1 We can easily believe that she not only gave but obtained 
information on all kinds of subjects wherever she went, for Tiraquellus 
(op. cit., p. 310) tells us she was exceedingly learned, "Celebris erudi- 
tione et sanctimonia, inter multa doctrinae, suae monurnenta scripsit in, 
medicina, quae sirnplicia, quae cornposita tollendis aegritudinibus pro- 

Saint Hildegard is said to have written fourteen books, some of 
them in several volumes. She was helped in the mechanical work by 
several monks and nuns, among them Hiltrud of Sponheim, whose 
knowledge of Latin was shown in the "Scivias,” and by Richardis, sister 
of the bishop of Bremen, who died in 1 168. Richardis had also worked 
on Hildegard’s early medical books. It is possible that she thought 
her own knowledge of Latin grammar faulty, for she says that the 
Lord guided her pen throughout all her work. It is evident, inci- 
dentally, that her contemporaries regarded her with great reverence, 
otherwise she would have been accused of heretical teachings. 

Hildegard wrote her poems, and her philosophical and theological 
works, between 1141 and 1158, because of her “lightning-like day- 
dreams and the promptings of the Holy Ghost.” Her first book, the 
"Scivias,'’ or "Nosce Vias Domini,'' was greatly admired by the Pope, 
and by Saint Bernard. Then came the "Liber Vitae Meritorum” ; and, 
after 1163, the medical books, the "Causae et Curae,” the "Liber Sim- 
plicis Medicinae,” on the composition of medicines, the "Physica,’’ the 
"Liber Compositae Medicinae,” in eight parts, and the "Liber O per urn 
Simplicis Hominis," in which latter she made many original observations 
in the art and science of medicine. 

The "Physica,” on the nature of man, creatures and plants, has been 
called by Virchow “an early materia medica, curiously complete consider- 
ing the age to which it belongs.” 2 It was first printed in the sixteenth 

1 Miss Grace Latham, British Museum, May 28, 1929, gives the following in- 
formation: ‘‘Women were accustomed to riding almost as much as men; when 
they had to travel they usually did it on horseback, riding astride. The cus- 
tom of riding sideways did not spread in England before the latter part of 
the fourteenth century, and even then it was not general. In Ms. of Decretals 
ladies on horseback .... are represented riding astride.” Ivories in the 
British Museum also show this as well as ivories in the Victoria and Albert 
Museum. In the Ellesmere Ms. of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales the Wife of 
Bath rides astride with large spurs, but the prioress sits sideways. In the 
edition of M98, p. 101, they both sit sideways. See Jusserand’s “Wayfaring 
Life in the Middle Ages,” p. 103, etc. 

2 Eckenstein, p. 269, gives references to .lessen, “Botanik der Geyenwart und 
Vorzeit," pp. 120-127, 186-1, and to Virchow and Haeser. Also she refers 
for the life of Hildegard to Reuss and others in Migne, vol. 197, written by 
the monks Godefrid and Theodor, her contemporaries. Also to Schmelzeis, 
“Das Leben und U'irken der heiliyen Hildegardis,” pp. 538 IF., 1879. 



century, and contains references to nearly 500 plants, metals, stones, 
animals, giving their value as medicines to human beings. Sarton says, 
vol. II, p. 70, that the “Physica,” written by Hildegard of Bingen, “the 
most original medical writer of Latindom in the twelfth century,” was 
a “medical summary of the medicine of its time” (p. 310). He also says, 
(p. 293) “the greatest personalities of the West were Hildegard, John 
of Salisbury, and Gerard of Cremona ; they were, however, pigmies com- 
pared with the Arabs Maimonides and Averrhoes.” This statement we 
must further examine later. Many other writers have considered Hilde- 
gard the most distinguished naturalist 1 * of her century." 

Hildegard’s “Liber Subtilitaturn ” is called (Reuss, p. 500, Migne 
vol. 197) “the best of the Middle Ages, scientifically considered.” It is 
full of observations on zoology, botany, folk-medicine and psychology. 
Neuburger (vol. II, p. 39) says that this book, though originally Hilde- 
gard’s, has received many additions at the hands of copyists. Singer 
considers it, as well as the “Causae et Curae,” spurious and not attributed 
to her until a later date. Sarton does not agree with Singer; but it 
must be admitted, as Singer and others point out, that there are many 
disconnected passages in the book, more than a few repetitions and lack 
of careful arrangement and carelessness in expression. This, of itself, 
however, is no evidence that the work as a whole is not Hildegard’s. 

The “Liber Divinorum Operum” was written after the author was 
in her seventy-fifth year. It contains 187 chapters, in which she dis- 
cusses anatomy and physiology and the atmospheric changes which cause 
disease. 3 

One looking carefully into these various medical books of Saint 
Hildegard will readily understand why they had so great an influence 
upon the people who read them, and why nobody but a true observer of 
nature and an experimentalist could have written them, notwithstanding 
that she expressly says that all her studies derived from the Bible. She 
regarded the brain as the ruler of the senses and functions of the body, and 
fatigue as due to the over-tension of the nerves caused by the decomposi- 

1 In the “Creed of Piers Ploughman,” line 1401, in English, we are told to 

“hearken to Hildegard,” showing that her influence was still felt one hundred 
years after her death. 

3 Matthias of Westminster in 1292 copied Hildegard’s “ Liber composite medi- 
cinae.” The “Artzeneyen Buck” was written by Volnarus, a monk, at her re- 
quest, 1150-60. This is in the Bib. Nat. Paris, illustrated with pictures of 
many strange beasts. 

Schultz also praises Hildegard. “Bine grosse Kenntniss der nutzbaren 
Krauter hat die H. Hildegard,” vol. I, p. 202. 

3 Thorndike, Lynn, op. cit., p. 124. See also Singer, op. cit., pp. 12-14. 

1 88 


tion of humors. The blood, according to her theories, carries poisons as 
well as food to the tissues, there being little difference between the work 
of veins and arteries. The liver, the seat of the heat as well as wisdom 
of the body, was to her as important an organ as the stomach, which 
“sharpened the food and cooked it.” This last theory she got from 

When Hildegard felt obliged to refer to the four humors she half 
apologized for going so far back in traditionalism. Then she proceeded 
to explain diseases of the skin as due to dryness of the blood, and fever 
as due to the lack of power in the three vescicles of the brain to cool 
what blood the liver had sent it, or to the failure of the body to absorb 
an excess of moisture, or quiet the agitation of the blood . 1 

Hildegard’s theories of generation were mainly taken from Aris- 
totle — but with embellishments. She excuses herself for discussing the 
topics of sex by referring to her advanced age, for "naturalia non sunt 
turpia.” She believed that the female provides nourishment for the un- 
born child from her menstrual fluid, but that the male provides its shape 
and soul. She says that the soul, however, comes from God before the 
child is born through a hollow tube attached to a sort of kite in the sky. 
The intellect is attached to the soul as the arms are to the body; and the 
soul therefore rules the body, manifesting itself through the will as well 
as by means of the intellect . 2 3 At the birth of the baby ten invisible 
nurses bring it gifts, but one Evil Spirit lies in wait to harm it. The 
gifts are shaped like cheeses, some hard, others soft, each containing 
inherited characteristics for its soul. Obviously we need not go more 
deeply into these theories of Hildegard, but turn to her ideas of the 
creation of man, Adam, who was made by God out of green earth while 
Eve was flesh of his flesh and therefore was much weaker than he, and 
not capable of having female offspring any stronger than herself. 

Hildegard writes continually about this weakness of woman’s will 
and her lack of bodily strength. Yet she has the “divine breath in her 
medulla” and must perform her share of the work of generation. If 
Eve had not eaten the apple, the veins of her descendants would carry 
only good blood and children would be born painlessly and with greater 
vitality. Eve was carnal, but Adam was a spirit from God. At death 

1 These theories of fever compare interestingly with the experiments of Pro- 

fessor Henry G. Barbour at Yale University, that the liver does abstract water 
from the blood in fever. 

3 Singer, Charles, “Studies in the History and Methods of Science,” pp. 45-54. 

The Arrival of a Soul in the Body of an Infant. 

(From a Wiesbaden manuscript of Hildegarde’s “Scivias," written at 
Bingen about 1180 . Reprinted by permission from Singer’s “From Magic 

to Science.") 



the composite soul departs from the body through the mouth, and is at 
once seized by devils or angels according to its deserts. Hildegard was 
not the only one of her generation who believed this latter, for we find 
it represented in paintings as late as the Renaissance, and later. 

In her pathological studies Hildegard ranges over the whole body, 
from embryology to the decay of old age, from headaches, vertigo, and 
brain fever to heart pain due to gas in the stomach, coughs, gout, jaun- 
dice, dysentery, diseases of the kidneys and bladder and their diagnosis 
by the appearance of the urine. She follows Trotula in her study of 
gynecological diseases, including sterility, dysmenorrhea, etc. For steril- 
ity she advises the patient to eat the pulverized uterus of a lamb — which, 
she says, is curative, “if God wills.” Mental diseases, however, were 
her specialty. She had evidently studied her own case carefully and 
had come to the conclusion that epilepsy is under the control of the 
moon; that, if the moon is in a certain phase, a newly born child will 
be the victim of certain mental diseases such as epilepsy, or will be 
deceitful or sly, or a thief, although physically strong; “for the brain is 
the ruler of the body, but the moon rules the brain .” 1 

Although Hildegard’s knowledge was naturally influenced, like 
others of her time, by astrology and alchemy, she was skilful in the ob- 
servation and diagnosis of disease, which she carefully differentiated 
from one another ; and she was much wiser in her treatment by diet and 
hygiene than her predecessors had been. Believing as little as possible in 
astrology, she was one of the first to see that the sun, rather than the 
earth, is the center of the universe, and that the sun is the great healer 
of man’s ills, as well as “the controller of the stars.” The moon might 
influence tides, winds, and weather; winds might affect the humors of 
the body; the Holy Spirit alone could intervene to prevent the disastrous 
effects of these elements upon mankind. 

But, despite her crude beliefs as to the primary causes of disease, 
Hildegard had a practical knowledge of most of the four hundred and 
eighty-five plants or drugs which she considered useful for pathologic 
conditions of the body. She fervently believed that each remedy, 
whether animal, vegetable or mineral, was especially created by God for 
man’s benefit. To her credit it must be said that she prescribed her 
medicines to be taken in small doses, with an enormous quantity of water 

1 Sudhoff, Karl, ‘'Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte tier Anatomie im Mittelalter 
1908. Singer, Charles, “Studies in History and Methods of Science,” vol. I, 
p. 46, 1917. Thorndike, Lynn, “Magic and Arabic Astrology, Medieval Cipher,” 
vol. I, p. 715. 



or milk, or frequently by inunction and massage, and she ordered sleep, 
exercise and diet in good proportions for her patients. She was careful 
to order simple and cheap medicines for the poor, compound and expen- 
sive ones for the rich. Sometimes she draws spiritual lessons from her 
cures, like another old writer of the period, who saw divine wisdom in 
the absence of hair from the cartilages of the eyelids. 

As to diet, Hildegard copied her predecessors, but, as has been 
noted, she stressed the copious drinking of water, and of boiling it if it 
came from swamps. Barley water she considered better for the kidneys 
than plain water, but she had many reasons for not drinking beer 
and wine, the chief reason being that they might not be sufficiently hot 
or cold for the blood. Barley she thought both cold and moist, and that its 
juice purged the bowels, strengthened the body, and cooled the system. 
In certain months of the year spices were to be added to the drinking 
water, as for example, ginger tea in January, a combination of spices — 
pepper, cinnamon, cloves, honey, strong wine — to be taken after each 
meal in March, absinth in April, and fruit juices in December . 1 

That Saint Hildegard was reverential, and had no intention or 
thought of heresy, may be seen in every chapter of her book. For in- 
stance, the title of the third chapter of the 'Causae et Curae” reads: “De 
brae diet is autern infirmitatibus subscriptae medicinae a dco monstratae , 
aut horninem liberabunt aut ipse morietur aut deus cum liberari non 
vult.” In this chapter she takes up the diseases of the body seriatim, 
beginning with the head and its various parts, and then considering all 
other organs, and their physiology and pathology, including tumors of the 
kidneys and bowels, fistulae. diseases of menstruation, and sterility. We 
must remember that she, unlike Trotula, was not writing a work on 
gynecology and pediatrics primarily, but a general encyclopaedia of medi- 
cine to be used as a text-book. She evidently felt herself called upon to 
treate the subject of generation earnestly and practically. 

Hildegard had her own theories of the causes of pain. She thought 
that headache was not as common in women as in men because men 
worried and over-ate to a greater degree than women. But even women 
might have “repercussion in the meninges” and trouble with their eyes, 
ears, or bowels, and then have headache. For such a condition she 
would give the patient a purgative, put him to bed in a quiet, darkened 
room, give him magnetic iron water to drink, place cool compresses on 
the head, and give him oil of roses and vinegar to inhale, or, if necessary, 

1 Xeuhurger, op. cit., p. 308. 



use a feather to paint his temples with an evaporating mixture, all of 
which sounds quite modern and efficacious. She gives advice as to the 
treatment of forty-seven diseases (prescribing hellebore and scamony for 
melancholia), and advises the use of the soporific sponge of the Salerni- 
tans, which contained, as we have seen, a mixture of ingredients — among 
them opium, hyoscyamus, mulberry juice, lettuce, hemlock, mandragora 
and ivy. Incidentally Hildegard says that, if the patient seems to be 
dead, he may be wakened by smelling fennel juice. 

For many of her remedies she must have consulted the works of 
Dioscorides or of the Archbishop Isidor of Seville. She treats certain 
diseases of women with the fibres of mandragora steeped in the breast 
milk of a woman who has a baby three months old. For dysmenorrhea 
she prescribes asphodel root steeped in wine as a compress tc the abdomen ; 
this was also used for toothache, baldness and deafness. Althea seeds 
were prescribed for many diseases— cooked with wine. This preparation 
by itself was good for gout ; mixed with fennel and flaxseed she used it 
for an inflamed breast; combined with turpentine and oil it was good 
for sterility and to relieve strangury, to remove spots from the skin, or 
to ease the pains of dysmenorrhea and testicular swelling. 

Fevers were seldom differentiated in those days, but quotidian, 
tertian and quartan were unmistakable to Hildegard. For these she 
prescribed a decoction of the bark of the medlar tree which she must 
have imported from the South. For stomach ache, she used, among other 
remedies, a tea of laurel berries, taken as hot as possible. For cough she 
had a syrup of pears and rosemary, or a syrup of figs with wild cherries; 
for hemorrhage from the lungs, nose, or wounds, she used leeks with 
roses, or powdered nut galls, and turpentine ; for fistula, a preparation of 
Dutchman’s pipe; for bruises, cyclamen (which Trotula had praised). 
Mallows she prescribed for eye-washes; heliotrope for varicose veins,*: 
water-lilies and polyganum for dysentery; gladiolus for diseases of the 
bladder. Figs had many uses; fresh or dried they soothed the stomach, 
moved the bowels, nourished the members, provoked sweating, quenched 
thirst in fever, cured dropsy, made a comforting poultice for the eyes or 
for a gouty foot, or, prepared as a thin gargle, benefited sore throat. 
Fennel and cardamon seeds were universal remedies, and nearly all our 
native flowers and garden vegetables were somewhere found in her 

Poisoning was a common ill in the twelfth century, whether result- 
ing from intentional administration or the accidental bite of snakes, 



centipedes, or what not. There were many antidotes for poisons, effi- 
cacious if used quickly, but theriac was then still the most popular 
remedy. If made in Venice it was costly, for it contained more than 
seventy ingredients. It is even now found on the shelves of the apothe- 
caries in remote parts of Europe, though its formula is less complicated 
than it was in Hildegard’s time. Besides theriac, there were other reme- 
dies so expensive as to be available only to the rich. Hildegard, however, 
had cheap remedies for the poor. Where the flesh of unicorns and camels 
and elephants was costly, whale oil was cheap, and she used it for lung 
troubles, especially for pleurisy. She also prescribed salmon liver for 
other diseases of the chest, carp flesh as a diet in fevers, and cels for 
pediculosis. For the more obstinate troubles of the rich there were 
preparations of the bodies of griffons, peacocks, storks, tigers and leop- 
ards. On the other hand, mice and rats were cheap. So, to cure a fever: 
catch a mouse, stun it, and bind it between the shoulders of a patient. 
When the mouse dies the fever will vanish. For itch her preferred 
remedy was to draw a live herring over the spots on the skin, while for 
eczema the ashes of a goat were considered good — if used for a sufficient- 
ly long time. These latter remedies were derived in the main from old 
German folk-medicine, although Galen had advocated remedies just as 
crude and empirical. 

There was a sufficient amount of common superstition in Hilde- 
gard’s methods to alarm at times the heads of the Church as savoring 
of heresy. Her lay contemporaries, however, believed that she had more 
than human skill in casting out devils, as well as in her cure of blindness 
and lameness, and even of leprosy by her laying-on of hands. Crowds 
of patients waited at her door every day for help, and none was ever 
turned away comfortless. She sometimes used wet clay as an application 
to their paralyzed legs and arms, or to their blind eyes. Often she 
prayed with them, and on occasions she taught them to repeat such 
phrases as “Lazarus slept, he is awake, Christ removed his disease, 
rise up and be healed” ; but this sleep was to be taken beside a sleeping 
donkey . 1 She also believed in gathering herbs at a certain time of the 
moon, or when the stars were in a certain position. Plants with black 
fruit were supposed to be evil, and to belong to the lower world, like the 
blackberries abhorred by Isis. The mandrake was not only to be pulled 
up by a dog, but was to be soaked in a spring for twenty-four hours 
before being laid in the bed of a patient, where, if his perspiration warmed 

1 AVehrli, G. A., “Essays on the History of Medicine,” edited by Chas. Singer, 
p. 38o. 



and dried it, his pain would be cured. Moreover, depending on whether 
the mandrake was a male or female plant, it had different uses; for the 
leaves of the male plant, being the stronger, might be harmful to a 
woman patient. 

She says little about surgical work of her own. She believed in 
great cleanliness in handling wounds and in the care of women in labor, 
and this at a time when the conventional dressings for wounds were 
hot oil or boiling wine, which scalded the surrounding tissues. Not 
until the seventeenth century did Ambroise Pare dare tie the bleeding 
points and close a wound. Often faeces and urine were used as dressings 
or poultices, as in fact they are used even today in parts of the world 
where education as to germs has not penetrated. Hildegard must have 
had an inkling of the germ theory of disease, for she remarks that where 
the blood is thick in fever worms may grow and cause the death of the 
patient. If she ever took charge of obstetric cases, she fails to say so. 
For sterility, a curse to the women of her time, she had many remedies — 
all absurd. One was to hang a piece of parchment around the patient’s 
neck containing these words: " Dixit Dominus, crescite et multiplicami, 
et replete terram.” If this talisman failed, the crushed and softened 
uterus of a sheep was to be eaten while repeating the formula. The 
following was her cure for a difficult labor: place the heart of a lion 
over the umbilicus of the patient for a short hour, then bury it. If not 
effective, the heart must be steeped in water and taken as a tea. What 
was done if this failed, or if the heart of a lion could not be obtained 
from near-by pharmacies, we do not know ! 

Like Trotula, Hildegard described the symptoms of both gonorrhea 
and syphilis without calling them by name. She believed that they indi- 
cated some form of catarrhal bladder trouble caused by “seeds sown in the 
genitalia,” and for the condylomata she insisted upon prolonged treatment 
with washes and ointments containing mercury, a very old remedy and 
one greatly abused. Diabetes was to Hildegard another form of bladder 
trouble in which the blood lost too much water. The patient must, there- 
fore, be treated by a special diet lacking in nuts and sweets, spices and 

Thus we have taken a very cursory review of the life and times and 
medical teachings of Saint Hildegard of Bingen who died in 1178. She 
was known for centuries as the Sibyl of the Rhine, and, although not 
canonized, her name was placed on the list of Roman Martyrology. 
Pupils and patients flocked to her convent. To all her students she 
insisted upon thoroughness in diagnosis, accuracy in observing symptoms 



and recording them, the diligent study of the pulse and urine of the 
patient, and the building up of his constitution, omitting nothing which 
might add to his well-being. I o all the sick she was kind and gentle, 
encouraging them to rely upon God if human help seemed futile, and 
using her psychological insight both in their treatment and in her own 
diagnosis of their diseases. 

Besides this interest in medicine Hildegard was a devotedly religious 
woman, profoundly in sympathy with the teachings of the Church and 
Bible, believing, like Ambroise Pare, that, whatever she did to help the 
patient, it was only God who healed him. One of her contemporaries 
wrote of her in 1158, “In these days God made manifest His power 
through the frail sex in two maidens, Hildegard and Elizabeth, [of 
Schonau] whom he filled with a prophetic spirit, making many kinds of 
visions apparent to them through His messages, which are to be seen in 
writing.” 1 

1 The chief biographers of Hildegard were two monks, Godefrid and Theo- 
dor, her contemporaries; the former wrote a part of her “Scivias,” the second 
wrote of the later years of her life and finished in 1191. This material was 
used during the inquisition in the middle of the thirteenth century pro and 
con her beatification, and it has given a more complete biography of her life 
than otherwise could have been possible unless it had been an actual auto- 
biography. There are two copies of her “Scivias," with illustrations, in exist- 
ence, probably made during her life-time, now in the library at Wiesbaden. 
There are several reprints of most of her books, the first edition of her 
“Phi/sica” having been edited by G. Kraut in 15-14 at Strasburg, and published 
by Johannis Schottus as a copy of an original volume of 1533. This volume con- 
tains her chapters on the elements, some German rivers, metals, vegetables, 
fruits, herbs, trees and bushes, fishes, birds and animals, operations, unusual 
experiences, etc.; also extracts from Oribasius on medicinal plants, l’riseian 
on diets, and Aesculapius on diseases and their treatment. In an edition 
published a little later by W 0 I 1 T we find these same articles by Hildegard 
and the above writers together with Trotula on the diseases of women. The 
volume contains very complimentary remarks as to the great medical ability 
of these women. We recall also that 1’riscian’s work was dedicated to a 
woman named Victoria, showing that for practical medical work each century 
had to have women physicians as well as midwives. Migne, in vol. 197 of the 
great “Patrologia," gives more than thirteen hundred columns to Ilildegard's 
works, including those on her visions and the medical books, including nine on 
materia medica, one on botany, one on zoology, and one on minerals. 

Schottus said that Hildegard wrote better than any other medical writer 
then living, not excepting Avicenna — high praise indeed. Migne (1855) said 
that she was the most important religious writer who practiced medicine in 
the Middle Ages, and that her ''Liber composilae medicinae’’ and “Liber sbm- 
plicis medicinae,’’ although containing the views of her time, were full of new 
facts from her own observation. Paulus Kaiser in 1903 published an illustrated 
edition of the “Causae et Curae,” and Alfons Huber translated into German 
her book of animals and birds, with amusing contemporary pictures dated 1150- 
1160, and he gives a glossary of her medical remedies from which quotations 
have herein been made. 



QTILL another source of gratification, indirect, but for that reason 
all the more significant, as to women’s part in medical work in this 
century is the work of the troubadours, and medical incidents in the 
poems, stories and folk tales of the period. This fashion of story telling 
and minstrelsy was characteristic of the times. Books were scarce and 
expensive. It was but natural that these wandering minstrels should be 
welcome in castles or market places. Purse strings as well as ears and 
eyes were open to the new entertainers as people, seated on the ground 
or in the great halls, listened to love songs or tales of high adventure, of 
courageous deeds and intrigues. Dreams also were interpreted and 

fortunes told for the credulous. Tricks were shown, and tumbling 

scenes performed. In short, these were the entertainments of the day, 
the relief from the sordidness of everyday life. 

Frequently in these tales we come upon medical incidents. It is 
generally a woman who is tending a knight wounded in a tournament or 
in battle, or caring for a sick hero. 1 

Chaucer 2 tells how women raised the herbs and knew their value : 
According to Pertelot, the hen in the “Nonnes Preestes Tale,” women 
differentiated fevers and treated them according to the humoral theories. 

In the old “Romance of Gaufrev” a certain warrior, Robastre, was 
so dangerously wounded as to be nearly dead. The wife of a traitor cured 
him. “She went to a coffer and took out an herb, pounded it in a morter, 
mixed it with other things and gave it to the man.” He was “sound as 
an apple, no sooner had it passed his throat.” In the “Romance of 
Fierabras” a Saracen princess, Florepas, applied mandrake to Oliver’s 

1 Langlois, Ernest, “Origines et Sources du Roman de la Rose,” 1891. Wright, 
Thomas, “Womankind in Western Europe from the Earliest Times to the 
Seventeenth Century,” 18G9, p. 185. Wright, Thomas, “Homes of Other Days,” 
1871, p. 291. 

2 “Canterbury Tales,” with Introduction and Glossary by John Matthews 
Manly. “The Nonnes Preestes Tale,” 1929, pp. 444, also notes, p. G37 ft'. 

Though in this toun is noon apothecaire 

I shal myself to herbes techen vow 

That shul been for youre hele and for voure prow. 

And in oure yeerd the herbes shal I fynde. (Lines 4138-4142) 

. laxatives 

Of lawriol, eentaure, and fumetere, 

Or elles of ellebor that groweth there 

Of katapuce, or of gaitrys beryis 

Of herbe yve growing in oure yeerd, ther merv is. 

Pekke hem up right as they growe, and ete hem vn. 

(Lines 4152-4157) 



wounds, and healed him at once. In the English story, “Amis and 
Amiloun,” when Sir Amiloun is struck with leprosy, the wife of Amis 
takes him into a quiet room, removes his clothes, bathes him, applies salves 
and clean cloths to his sores, and heals him, thus saving the lives of his 
children who were to he sacrificed so that their blood might be used for 
this purpose. In the German epic of " Gudrun” there is a wise, “wild 
wife, meaning by that simply a native of the country, who knew all about 
healing herbs. In the story of Gawain a woman examines Gawain care- 
fully to see if he is yet alive. She feels his pulse in the neck and ab- 
domen, notices the warmth of his body and his perspiration, and brings 
him back to consciousness. In the same tale a knight is “healed at a fair 
castle by two maidens, who, mirabile dictu, also cure his sick lion! 

I he first accounts of the romantic adventures of the knights of 
King Arthur seem to have been written in the twelfth century by 
Chretien de Troyes, who was living at the court of the Countess Marie, 
daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Louis VII, between 1160 
and 1172, when the pilgrims were returning from the south of France 
with the songs of the Troubadours on their lips. In each of his four 
romances Chretien finds something to say about the medical skill of 
women, either as physicians or surgeons. 1 In “Free and Enide” there 
arc two charming sisters who are skilful in the care of wounds. When 
Free is wounded Guivret and Enide lay him on a high bed of quilted 
coverlets, out-of-doors, give him hot wine diluted with water to drink, 
and wash and bind his wounds. When he has been put to bed in an 
airv room, the sisters remove the dead flesh, apply plaster and clean lint 
four times a day, feed him nourishing drinks containing “neither garlic 
nor pepper,” and after a fortnight he is able to walk. Chretien adds 
that there was no need to instruct these damsels, for they understood the 
treatment well. In another story, “Yvain and Lancelot,” we find a 
doctor coming from Montpellier “who was more skilled than any other 
man in treating wounds,” permitting the reasonable inference that in 
his day both men and women were equally skilled in surgery. 

In another of the tales of Chretien, “Clegcs,” a nurse named 
Thessala, to avoid certain complications, gives a sleeping potion to Fenice, 
the Queen, to make her appear to be dead. The urine of a dying person 
is sent to a doctor for diagnosis with the pretense that it is from the 
Queen. The diagnosis is naturally so bad that the death of Fenice is 
accepted as a fact by the Court until four aged physicians arrive from 

1 Chretien de Troyes, “Erec and Enide,” Everyman’s Library, 1913. 


Tobit and Anna, or the Lady as Physician. 

Tobil is in bed. Anna concocts medicine for him, according to a prcscrip- 
tion bo<d; on her knee. The nurse stands by. (From a manuscript dated 
1U70, the Historic i Scliolastica , in the British Museum.) 


Salerno and attempt to resuscitate her by entreaties, threats, beatings, 
pouring boiling oil into the palms of her hands. Finally as a last re- 
sort they prepare to place her over a red-hot grill. At this the women 
of the Court interfere, throw the doctors out the window, and kill them. 
The nurse then comes again, pretends to prepare the body for the grave, 
but really anoints it with healing ointments. It is placed on a feather 
bed in a great stone coffin, and lowered into a sepulchre surrounded by 
soldiers. To make a long story short, the Queen comes to life at the 
appointed time, and the nurse restores her to health in a fortnight. 

In the story of “Tristram and Isolde,” when Isolde leaves Ireland 
for Cornwall to become queen, her mother gives her a chest of drugs and 
poisons and teaches her the use of them. In Wagner’s version of the 
story Tristan asks eagerly, “Kommt die Aertztin nicht?” 1 

In the story “Elias of Saint Giles,” Rosamonde, a Saracenic 
princess of the twelfth century, takes the wounded Christian knight, 
Elias, to her home and heals him, for, says Wright, 2 “she, like the rest 
of her sex in those days, was a good physician.” 

In another old tale, that of “Aucassin and Nicolette,” it is Nicolette 
who sets Aucassin’s broken shoulder, and binds it “with grass, leaves and 
flowers, and the flap of her chemise.” A demoiselle of a castle, in the 
“Roman de la Violette,” takes Gerard into a chamber, examines his 
wounds, applies ointments, and he recovers. In an old Bible story, 
which is told again and again in the Midlde Ages, Anna prepares a 
medicine for her old blind husband, Tobit, from a receipt in her medical 
book, and he is cured. In the epic, “Diedrich of Bern,” a story based 
upon Attila the Hun, the hero is healed by a woman by means of herbs, 
lotions, baths and medicinal bandages. It is evident that these stories 
did not strain the credulity of their hearers. 

In other tales, as in the story of the wife of Robert of Normandy, 
who, when he returned to Salerno from his journey to Jerusalem, had 
an open wound and seemed doomed to die, 3 a woman doctor sucks the 
poison from a wound and heals a knight. Frequently, in these mediaeval 
stories, we find women making salves and applying them, cooking herbs, 
reciting healing formulae over patients as she gives them soothing drinks, 

1 Tennyson, in “The Death of Oenone,” makes Paris say to Oenone, his jealous 
wife, “Thou knowest, taught by some god, whatever herb or balm may clean 
the blood from poison; my life and death are in thy hands.” Oenone lets him 
die, and then commits suicide. 

2 Op. cit., “Womankind in Western Europe,” 1869, pp. 110, 184. 

a In Scandinavia, a mother was always supposed to suck the pus from the 
ears or sores of her suffering children, and especially the discharge from their 
eyes when they had measles. 



and gathering remedies according to time of the moon. This sort of 
thing comes into the story of Parzifal. 1 We read of plasters made of 
white of egg and mustard or clay, of styptics made from vinegar and 
spices, of stimulants prepared from the juice of grapes and the milk of 
sweet almonds. One “Old Queen" is said to have slipped a ring between 
the teeth of a fainting man and carefully dropped cold water into his 
throat to revive him, then to have washed his wounds with dictamnus 
and warm wine, and to have given him a dose of theriac because she 
feared he had been poisoned. He slept for a while and recovered. 2 
Migne tells us that the women learned of these remedies by reading 
Aegidius of Corbeil, or the books of the doctors of Salerno. 

Such tales of love and adventure, as well as of healing, were con- 
stantly being carried from the South to the North by troubadours and 
minstrels. The Icelandic Sagas and the poetic Edda of the twelfth 
century developed a remarkable body of literature from the traditions of 
their own Vikings and Scandinavian heroes. In many of these tales 
women act as physicians and surgeons, showing that customs did not 
differ though countries were widely separated. 

1 ogether with their knowledge of herbs, the women of these stories 
were often conversant with magic. 1 hey had magic stones which could 
draw poison, or even an arrow, from a wound if properly applied. Fossil 
belemmtes, inscribed with runes, were thought to work wonders, especial- 
ly if they came from St. Hilda’s abbey at Whitby. If heated with vine- 
gar, and placed in the bed of a patient when he was asleep (and if 
enough clothing or animal skins were heaped over him and he perspired 
freely, and if it were God s will!) he would be healed. From this belief 
in magic stones it was only a step to a belief in other charms and amulets. 
Plants were thought to be conscious, and even intelligent; so that they 
could and would withhold their efficacy if not properly plucked. Mistle- 
toe, beloved of the so-called Druid women in Wales, Ireland and Brit- 
tany, if correctly used, would ward off evil spirits. Flax and lotus 
flowers might appease the god of light; and blackberries, once the bane 
of Isis and the Egyptians, were now universally avoided. 3 Like the 
men of the time, the women believed in weird animals, such as were 
never on sea or land, and that men could be changed into wolves, and 

1 Schultz, Ahvin, “Dns Ildfische Leben zur Zcit cler Minnesinr/er.” 1889. 

vol. I, p. 202. 

3 Migne, Patrol, vol. 197, p. 1125, et »eq. 

3 M ehrli, G. A., Article in “History of Medicine,” edited by Charles Singer, 
(presented to Sudhoff) 1894-. 


women bring forth snakes and dogs. Any natural object, from clouds 
to rocks and plants, was likely to be personified, and any queer story of 
magic might be accepted as true, even if obviously freshly embellished 
in the telling. The strange beasts described by the traditional Sir John 
Mandeville were solemnly believed to exist somewhere, and so late as 
the sixteenth century Ambroise Pare described monsters so absurd as 
to make anybody nowadays doubt the tale, but these beasts were appar- 
ently accepted then without a sign of unbelief. 

Among the women writers of Bestiaries in the twelfth century was 
one who is often spoken of as a man. Her name was Philippa, or 
Philippe de Thaon, perhaps the daughter of the more noted Philip, and 
perhaps his secretary. She, or they, prepared a book of animal stories in 
verse, the earliest version of the “Pliysiologus,” 1 a popular treatise on 
science, stones, birds, and beasts, during the Middle Ages. This was 
dedicated to Adelaide, the queen of Henry I, evidently because the queen 
was more of a medical scholar than the king. These stories were as 
believable as any of their kind, and for years they delighted the ladies 
of the court. To animals were attributed cruel but human vices or 
beatific virtues. The lion, son of the Virgin Mary, was king of the 
world, and he “would be terribly hard on the Jews at the Last Judg- 
ment.” The donkey, a Jew by nature, was to be punished because he 
believed in God only by force. The monkey was the devil. The pelican 
was the type of Christ “II nostro pellicano” of Dante. The turtle was 
the widow of the Church. A bishop of Monte Cassino also wrote an 
animal book in verse to teach the meaning of such incomprehensible ani- 
mals as those of the Apocalypse, for example, the snake, the fox, and the 
devil, being synonymous, taught the doctrine of the Incarnation, for, as 
the “stag inhales snakes and becomes overheated thereby, and rushes for 
water, so mortals being full of the devil, must rush for the cooling 
springs of religion.” Rats and mice were also useful in teaching great 
religious lessons as to heaven-sent inflictions. They were even then 

1 Students have been seriously puzzled by the differences in style and diction 
of parts of the Physiolopus or Bestiary of Philip or Philippe de Thaon or 
Thaiin. Max Friedrich Mann of Leipzig has studied various manuscripts in 
several libraries and has come to the conclusion that the authors were merely 
translators or copyists from the Latin into old French, with the addition of 
certain tales from memory and with possible original embellishments of theii 
own. Much of the material comes from Isidor of Seville and is written in a 
variety of hands, one of which may have been that of a woman, perhaps the 
daughter and amanuensis of Philip; we may add that there is no reason for the 
tradition that the work was in a real sense original, but what praise is 
bestowed on the writers may as well be shared with women. 



associated w ltli the plague and so came to be identified with the souls of 
the dead, reminding us of the Hindu theories of transmigration of 
souls. The stories of the Bishop of Hatto and the mouse tower on the 
Rhine, and of the Pied Piper of Hamelin grew up among people to 
whom these other stories were full of meaning. 

I he belief in the medicinal properties of stones has already been 
referred to. Alabaster healed the lungs; bervl was good for eye diseases; 
coral anil agate protected from lightning and wounds, cornelian from 
hemorrhage, chalcedony from poisons; emeralds aided pregnancy and 
procured an easy deliver} - ; amethysts were galactagogues, and prevented 
drunkenness; magnesium proved chastity, and cured dropsy; and sapphire 
gave the power of divination. I hese superstitions have not entirely 
vanished even today. 


A MONO the Englishmen who were writing books on medicine in 
the twelfth century were several whom Hildegard must have known 
by correspondence, if not in person, Alexander of Neckham, Adelard 
of Bath, and Peter Comestor, the “eater of books.” The first named 1 
was a foster brother of Richard the Lion Hearted, a monk of the most 
humble sort, born in 1157 in St. Albans, and buried at Worcester in 
1217. He was a great traveler as well as student. Part of his 
education was obtained in Paris, and part in Salerno and Mont- 
pellier and among the Arabs; but on his return to England he gave few 
hints that his travels had developed any original viewpoints. He wrote a 
series of questions to relieve his mind of the doubts which were troubling 
him. Here are samples of his worries: “When a cock becomes old does it 
lay an egg to be hatched into a basilisk by a toad?” — “Does a cock crow- 
in the early dawn to relieve its head of congestion and itching?” But 
these are no worse than the questions of Adelard of Bath, a great mathe- 
matician and traveler of the period, among which was: “Why have men 
no horns?” This question he answered Socratically : “Because men have 
brains to prevent their fighting, instead of horns with which to fight.” 
Another question was: “Why can not human babies walk the day they 
are born, and why should they have to be fed on milk?” To this Ade- 
lard could find no answer. This sort of stuff is a fair sample of the 

1 Alexander of Neckham was a timid and peaceful monk of Cirencester who 
referred to Aristotle as his master, and to himself as a fly walking up the 
revolving wheel of a mill without in any way changing the power of the wheel. 


pseudo-science of the time. Even John of Salisbury ( 1 1 15-1 180), 1 
Bishop of Chartres and friend of St. Thomas a Becket, asked childish 
questions, and believed in the significance of dreams, and in curing di- 
seases by prayer and relics, although he admitted that the prayer might 
be more efficacious if accompanied by certain herbs. 2 

Among the Frenchmen whom Hildegard may have known per- 
sonally was Odo of Meudon 3 , who wrote a famous long poem on herbs, 
the “Macer Flor'idus,” in 2269 hexameters and 77 chapters, describing 
the virtues of 77 plants. This work was based on the older Latin poet, 
Aemilius Macer. She may have known Bernard of Provins, which was 
in those days a thriving town about fifty miles southeast of Paris. He 
wrote a commentary on the “Tables” of Salerno in which he mentioned 
Trotula’s work, and also a book on drugs in which he wisely omitted 
many of those often recommended but difficult to obtain. He also wrote 
a commentary on the “Practica” of Bartholomew, which was translated 
into Hebrew as well as into German. 4 

Another noted French contemporary of Hildegard was the notable 
Gilles (or Aegidius) or Corbeil (Latinized as Petrus Corboliensis) 

( 1 140-1224) , credited with being the originator of the well-known 
saying that a student of medicine in his time must study at Salerno, but 
for law he should go to Bologna, for sciences and arts to Paris, and to 
Lyons for grammar and dialectics, showing us what wanderers his con- 
temporaries must have been. Aegidius was physician to Philip Augustus 
of France, and a friend of medical women, who, he said, were skilled in 
the diseases of children. 5 His writings kept the school of Salerno before 
the public for centuries, although he felt that in the early thirteenth 
century the school was not as great as it had been formerly. Being a 
poet, he put his regrets into verse: 

How deep thou hast sunk from the heights of thy glory, 

O Salerno, 

For how canst thou tolerate that from thy nurture there arise 
so many unripe plantlets, unworthy sons of the 
healing art? 

He concludes that “they” should not “be allowed to ascend the doctor’s 
cathedra with pompous step.” 1 Gilles’ popularity as a writer of text- 

1 John of Salisbury believed that since Joseph and Daniel interpreted dreams 
so the Lord might grant others to do the same. In his day magic, mathe- 
matics, and devils often were confounded or used to mean the same thing. 

2 Thorndike, Lynn, “Magic and Experimental Science,” vol. II, p. 158. 

3 Neuburger, vol. II, p. 39. 

4 Gonzaga, Francesco, “Hist. Seraph. VI. Ughellus Ital.” Sac. V, II, pp. 172- 
184. Also De Renzi, “Collect. Salernitana,” 1859, vol. V, pp. 269, 328. 

5 Schultz, op. cit., vol. I, p. 203. 



books for students — for they were best sellers — was due to their 
poetic form and their brevity, both of which made their materials easy to 
memorize. Among them was a poem on the urine, one on the pulse, 
and one on the general diagnostic appearance of the patient. 

The Italian, Arabic and Jewish physicians of the period remain to 
be mentioned briefly. Among the Italians the most noted was Gerard 
of Cremona (i 114-1187). He lived for fifty years in Toledo, Spain, 
while preparing his books. Sarton calls him “perhaps the greatest of all 
the translators.” Seventy-one works are credited to him and his school, 
including all subjects from mathematics to medicines and music. He 
translated the old work of Rhazes, adding new chapters on obstetrics. 

It was Arabs and Jews, especially those who lived in Spain and 
northern Africa, who did most of what original medical work was done 
in the twelfth century. Christian belief in the curative power of the 
relics of saints was an effective stop to scientific investigation. A traveler 
visiting today the cities of Spain which had large Muslim and Jewish 
populations in the Middle Ages finds, alas, scant evidence of their former 
sanitary science. In the open market places of Morocco native doctors 
still treat their patients with remedies of the time of Maimonides and 
Avenzoar, and we realize how changed their life has been since the 
twelfth century. In Sale and Rabat on the coast are the ruins of the 
old hospitals and schools of the time of Albucasis together with a medical 
school which once boasted to be as good as that in Cairo. 

Among the Mohammedans, and the famous Jewish, Persian, Spaniard 
and Syrian writers who wrote in Arabic, was Avenzoar of Cordova, the 
member of a distinguished Muslim medical family. He had courage, 
says Garrison, even to tilt against Galenism. His books, like those of 
Hildegard, included such subjects as the soul and its future, the hygiene 
of the body and the cure of its diseases. Of him and his family, how- 
ever, we have already spoken. Avenzoar died in Cordova in 1169, but 
he had a great disciple Averrhoes, who lived until 1198, an exile in 
Marrakech. Osier puts Averrhoes into his list of Prirna writers, because 
of his medical skill and the influence his philosophical insight had on 
European thought. He was exiled for his heresies, one of which was an 
attempt to correlate the Christian religion with the science of medicine. 
The descendant of a long line of judges, lie always tried to make his 
philosophic writing so simple that a child could understand it. He said 
once that he spent only two nights in his life without working, the night 
philosophic writing so simple that a child could understand it. He said 

1 Quoted by C. D. Spivak from A. Caravita, “1 Codici e le Arti a Monte 
Cassino” 1869-1870. 


once that he spent only two nights in his life without working, the night 
of his marriage and the night his father died. Dante found Averrhoes 
in Purgatory because of his Commentary on Aristotle, 1 and Ernest Renan 
wrote a large book to reconcile his philosophy with modern thought. 

To Albucasis, who died in 1122, we can give only a few words, 
although to him we owe the information that women were surgeons, as 
well as mid-wives, in the countries around the Mediterranean. He also 
said that no man should attempt to operate on any woman for stone 
in the bladder, for that was distinctly the work of women surgeons. 

One of the greatest medical writers of the twelfth century was 
Moses Maimonides, a Jew of Cordova. He was born in 1135, studied 
religion, philosophy and the humanities there, then went to Fez for 
further study, was persecuted for heresies, and driven to Cairo where 
he obtained his medical education. He is said to have been the greatest 
Jewish medical writer of all time. While in Cairo, as physician to the 
Sultan, he became so popular that, whenever he appeared on the streets, 
he was followed by a throng of the lame, the halt and the blind implor- 
ing his help. Richard the Lion Hearted urged him to go with him to 
England as his body physician, but he refused. He was beloved alike by 
Christians, Jews and Muslims, and for centuries there was a saying 
“From Moses to Moses there arose not one like Moses.” Hildegard 
has been classed with him as a writer. 

Maimonides wrote on many medical topics ; hemorrhoids, poisons, 
sex problems, quoting from the “Aphorisms” of Hippocrates as well as 
inventing aphorisms of his own, and upholding the medicine of Galen, 
the Salernitan regimen of health, etc. His greatest work, however, was 
the reconciliation of the works of Aristotle with the Jewish faith, as 
Averrhoes had attempted to reconcile them for the Muslims. One of 
the few references he made to the practice of medicine by women was 
that they were guilty of using magic in curing patients, adding that judges 
were more lenient with women magicians than with men. Yet even 
Maimonides believed in hanging the root of a peony on the neck of an 
epileptic, and in using the dung of a dog for sore eyes and inflamed 
throat, and a bezoar stone for pain in the gall bladder. In other w r ords, 
he was a child of the twelfth century. He remarked, however, that the 
study of books alone could not make a man wise, “for fools write books, 
and what a man learns through his own senses or from the great 
philosophers and sages — that alone makes a man wise.” He abhorred 
the mean, the false and the impure, urging toleration in all things. 

1 “Averrois che’l gran comento feo.” Inferno IV, 144. 

Chapter V 

"1 he Thirteenth Century 

Thundering and bursting 
In torrents and waves — 
Caroling and shouting 
Over tombs and graves; 
See! on the cumber'd plain 
Clearing a stage. 
Scattering the past about. 
Comes the new age. 

Matthew Arnold, Bacchanalia. 

Re* ardua vetustis novitatem 
obscuris lucem, fastiditis gratiam, 
naturae suae omnia. — Pliny. 

dare, navis auctoritatem, 
dubiis fidern, omnibus 

obsoletis nitorem, 
vero naturam, et 


W h may not believe that the thirteenth century came in with the 
shouting heard by Matthew Arnold, or that its hundred years 
produced greater medical men and women than any of its pre- 
decessors; but without doubt it established the foundations of modern 
education in medicine, science, and drama; it increased commerce and 
wealth and high adventure in foreign lands; and also it introduced a 
neu style of art and architecture more beautiful than any since the 
golden age of Greece. 

I he century was responsible for four new Crusades, however, and, 
along with constant warfare, there were terrible epidemics of the plague, 
malaria, the dancing mania, and the sweating sickness. Scurvy was en- 
demic in 1250, along with dysentery, tuberculosis, gangrene from ergot 
and wounds, erysipelas and tetanus from germs and dirt. T hese con- 
ditions must have helped to thrust new burdens on women and 
offered opportunities for medical service to those who were prepared and 
willing to undertake them. 

It is true that we find few names of superior medical women in the 
thirteenth century. I here was no teacher so important as Trotula, no 
medical writer so well known as Hildegard. Yet, as we recall the old 



saying, “An era without annals is happy,” we might infer that the routine 
work of medical women was unrecorded because it was too evident and 
commonplace to need recording. Certainly in a century when pestilence 
and famine raged as they did, women had plenty of opportunity for all 
kinds of medical work. We can not wonder that they had little desire 
for a university education if the outcome of a university education was 
an Albertus Magnus, or a Michael Scot. 

Along with its superstition and pestilences, however, the thirteenth 
century was decidedly picturesque and lively. Davis 1 says that the 
tumultuous revels of former times became ordered pageants, the discon- 
nected lays of minstrels were welded into romances, acts of forbearance 
and courtesy which had been the fruit of generous impulse were de- 
veloped into a code of chivalry. The Crusaders started off with zeal 
to honor the Virgin and gain absolution for their souls; but eyes of the 
pilgrims were opened to new understandings of the world, and the stories 
of those who returned were an education to those left behind. The 
imagination of painters ran riot in pictures of Hell and the torments of 
the damned ; but, nevertheless, along with all the crudities and absurdi- 
ties, there was also a marked spiritual and artistic advance. To this 
the soaring arches of the Gothic cathedrals, and the pictures in glass 
and stone and mosaic which decorate them, bear witness. 

It was chiefly in Italy, and the west of Europe, that the conception 
of art and architecture took a new turn ; and there resulted the paintings 
of Cimabue and Giotto, the pulpits of Niccolo Pisano, the elaborate 
bronze doors of many cathedrals, and the building of magnificent 
towers like that of Giotto at Florence, rivaling or surpassing those of 
the Saracens in Spain and North Africa. 2 Music also was being de- 

1 Davis, H. V. C., “England under the Normans and Angevins,” 1905, p. 505. 
Walsh, J. J., “The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries,” 1909. 

2 The so-called Gothic architecture was one of the main achievements of the 
thirteenth century. Starting in the twelfth century the builders of great 
cathedrals employed as workmen those who had artistic talents in sculpture 
and carving and glass making. The low, round arch, instead of being pinched 
at its base like the arch of the Moors, became elongated and pointed and was 
used distinctly as part of the construction of the walls and the support of 
tower and roof. Each country developed this principle according to its own 
artistic feeling: and thus we have, as examples of this period, parts of the 
cathedrals of Amiens and Chartres in France, Burgos and I^eon in Spain, 
Erfurt in Germany, and the choirs and porches of many English cathedrals, 
while the beautiful cathedral of Salisbury was entirely built within the 
hundred years, 1220-1258. When one asks the names of the architects and 
sculptors, the designers of capitals or the glass-makers, one is frequently told 
only the name of the bishop or other prelate under whose administration the 
structure was built, just as in medicine the work was the thing, its practitioner 
being nameless, unless he was a teacher or writer. 



veloped along new methods, and the century gave us such popular songs 
as the old English melody, Sumer is ycumen in. Sing Cuckoo, and Friar 
Pauls decidedly worldly refrain: 

Ave! color vini clari, 

Dulcis potus, non auiari, 

Tua nos inebriari 
Digneris potential 

It has been said that crusading ceased because the minds of travelers 
were directed into other channels than religion. Emerton 1 suggests that, 
basically, the Crusades were an attempt to substitute nationalism for 
feudalism. If so, it was the French alone who profited. They extended 
their boundaries far to the East, while their language became almost 
universal. Green says that the awakened national consciousness which 
developed in each country was the result of a defensive ego on the 
part of its citizens as they mingled with the citizens of another country. 

Whatever the spiritual effects of the Crusades, the fact is that the 
French in particular did gain a great deal of territory while the English 
gained in Wales and Scotland almost as much territory as they had lost 
in France. The wars between King John and the barons in the early 
\ ears of the century resulted in the winning of greater freedom for the 
people by the signing of the Magna Charta in 1215. 2 

1 Emerton, Ephraim, “Mediaeval Europe,” 189(5, pp. 385-3S6. 

A few dates may give us a glimpse of Europe in the thirteenth century. 
Hie fourth Crusade began in 1202, the fifth in 1217, the sixth in 1228, the 
seventh and eighth, under Saint Louis, in 1218 and 1270, when the king himself 
died at Tunis. There were also two other abortive Crusades, that of the 
children in 1212, and that of the farmers in the middle of the century. The 
children were led by a fanatical shepherd boy of France and a lad from 
Germany. Swarms of bovs 

- . - an d girls got as far as Marseilles or Brindisi, 

only to he sold into slavery, or to die of hunger and disease. It is said 
that when these children left their homes their mothers sobbed “from excess 
°f joy," and that the older Crusaders on the march “extended their arms, 
dropping with blood, to the Almighty for praise and reward.” These inci- 
dents show us the psychology and temper of the times. 

Just a glance at other notable dates and facts. Genghis Khan founded 
the Mogul Empire in 1206. Constantinople was conquered by the Roman Em- 
peror in 120-t, and by the Greeks in 1261. The Mohammedans won a great 
victory in India and “took’ Delhi in 1206. Jerusalem was won back by the 
Mohammedans in 1291, thus ending the Crusades. In 1290 the Republics of 
Genoa, Pisa, and Venice were at their height, and sea battles were common 
between their fleets. 

I he rulers of France were Louis IX, his mother Blanche being Regent, 
then Philip III and Philip IV. In England King John died in 1216, and he 
was followed by Henry III and Edward I. In Germany, after the deposition 
of Frederick II in 1215, there was a succession of incompetent and obstreper- 
ous kings constantly quarreling with the popes, among whom the most pacific 
as well as scientific was the Spaniard, Pope John XXI, who established 
the first Board of Health on record, and enforced quarantine at the ports of 
the Mediterranean. 



It is obvious from these things that the men and women of the 
thirteenth century were getting ready for a new kind of education. 
Monks and nuns were giving their imagination free play in the minia- 
tures sketched into the initials of the manuscripts they were copying, 
and painters like Giotto and Cimabue were evolving life-like portraits 
of saints and warriors from the old Byzantine types of big-eyed madon- 
nas and stiff doll-like babies. In medical education there was but little 
advance. Hair-splitting religious controversies were still taking the 
place of experimental science; and for the university medical student 
there was no teacher like Galen, no therapeutist like Dioscorides. 
While the Crusaders were destroying heretics by the thousand it did not 
seem necessary to save the bodies even of Christians by attention to 
their diseases. 

Nevertheless, there were symptoms of a new stirring among 
the thinking people of every country. Many a man set out from 
his home with merely a longing for high adventure, or a desire to gain 

by trade, rather than to effect the extermination of heretics. In 1245 

Friar John was sent on a friendly mission to the court of the Tar- 
tars. He traveled on horseback across what is now Russia to the court 

of the Grand Khan of Mongolia, three thousand miles in one hundred 
days, with a small retinue. In 1270 Marco Polo also reached Peking 
by the overland route, returning by sea with marvelous tales which for 
hundreds of years tempted other travelers to journey. The great 
Genghis Khan (1162-1227) had obtained control of Asia from the 
Caspian to the Pacific, while his successor, Kublai Khan (1216-1294) 
added enormous territories to those which he had inherited and pushed 
his armies into Europe even to the Danube. 

In the thirteenth century polygamy, or at least concubinage, was 
not uncommon, especially among the nobility. The dual code of 
morals, under which a man might have several mistresses, but each 
woman must devote herself entirely to one man, was in full force. But 
an old poem, written in 1285 by Gilles li Muisis, 1 a churchman, shows 
that many women were far from true to this standard. He says they 
were too fond of their clothes, fond of men in general, were gossips and 

1 Gilles also hurls diatribes against the begging students at the schools and 
against those who studied medicine for the sake of the money to be gained 
from their practice. 

“Si on li promet argent, il vous visitera. 

A I’apoticarie connoistre vous fera; 

Par son valet boistes asses envoiera. 

Si bien ne li pages, de tout il ciessera.” 



thoroughly vain, and by their sins caused the plague. “In the good 
old days,” says he, “girls had three dresses and simple, strong shoes. 
They obeyed their parents, sewed their clothes on in the morning, and 
ripped them off at night. I heir caps were modest, but now they wear 
horns as high as stags. They have little dogs and rabbits for pets, and 
when the clergy reprove them they say haughtily, ‘Attend to the men 
and we will attend to ourselves’.” 

Earlier in the century the women wore their robes belted in at the 
waist, long, loose sleeves, and tight caps with or without a veil ; and they 
were publicly punished by the church if their veils were too long, or 
their breasts not sufficiently covered. The Lord of Coucy tells us that 
the French women spent too much time over their toilet, combing and 
powdering their hair, looking in their mirrors, and pulling on their long 
stockings; but, he adds, the men also were very vain. They, too, wore 
bright garments, somewhat shorter than the robes of the women; and 
they showed a little of their legs.’ They wore as much jewelry as the 
women, and their outside cloaks were like those of the women, often 
made oi velvet, and trimmed with ermine. In the houses carpets w^ere 
still unknown, not being introduced until the time of Eleanor of Castile, 
the bride of Edward I of England; and the walls, as in the earlier cen- 
turies, were hung with tapestries to keep out the draughts. 

I he homes of the poor people w r ere little changed from those of 
the preceding centuries. They were still unsanitary and dreary, dark 
from lack of window glass, and with neither private bedrooms nor 
latrines. I he clothing of the poor w r as of the coarsest. 1 he men wore 
short trousers under a short tunic. Shoes, if worn at all, were home- 
made, and but little fitted to the shape of the foot, although among the 
wealthy there w r as a certain fashion in shoes, and sometimes elaborate 
ornamentation was used on them. On the w’hole, however, though often 
picturesque and elaborate, the clothing of the men and women of the 
century could not have been very comfortable. 

Conditions in the monasteries and abbeys of the period tell a signifi- 
cant story. We find the monks of Saint Albans, who for tw r o hundred 
tears had been considered among the holiest in Europe, demanding 
indulgences from fasting, and asking for extra wine and more food. 

( )ne old monk of St. Albans, on the other hand, lamented the growing 
degeneracy of the brethren to such an extent as to dream of the punish- 
ments to be meted out to them in Purgatory; and he wrote down these 
dreams for his companions to read. As for the nuns, it was necessary to 
make new rules for their conduct, and to invent drastic punishments for 
their misdeeds. “ I he Ancren Riwde,” or Rules for Anchoresses, is a set of 



admonitions written in the thirteenth century, possibly for the little group 
at Tarrant-Keynes in Dorset, England, although this has been contra- 
dicted. It is in the form of a letter covering two hundred pages in which 
women are cautioned particularly to guard their speech, for “if Eve had 
not spoken to the serpent she would never have been tempted by the 

Most of the poems and tales of the Troubadours and Minnesingers, 
however, were based on idealizations of women. The books owned by 
the women themselves, however — and, of course only the rich could own 
books at all — were chiefly prayer books, and collections of receipts for 
foods and medicines. There were many beautifully illuminated manu- 
scripts of this sort, with such titles as: “The Ladies’ Mirror,” “The 
Mirror of the Soul,” “The Queen’s Closet,” and “Mirror of Health.” 1 

Among these books written for women was one prepared by the 
king, Louis IX, for his daughter Isabella, the Queen of Navarre (1241- 
1271), in which obedience to parents and husbands was the keynote. 
In 1259 he published an order to all the great corporations to the effect 
that they should treat women during gestation “ avec tres grande douceur 
et avec calme.” This has quite a modern ring. At the same time 
Francesco de Barberino (1264-1308), the probable author of a book 
called “Del Reggimento e Costumi di Donne,” tried to regulate the whole 
life of women from the cradle to the grave, including a discussion of the 
occupations in which they should be interested, among the most im- 
portant of which he listed the practice of medicine and the care of 
children, and “not omitting a study of astrology so as to control the sex of 
their infants.” But the instability of women’s position in this century 
favored neither their medical education, nor their freedom to practice 
medicine. 2 

1 Hentsch, Alice A., “De In Litterature didactique de Moyen Aye,” tells us 
that, in a book called “The Key of Love,” marriage is considered a prison; but 
that if a woman puts herself into this prison, she must be careful to please her 
husband by attention to her toilet, and be always pleasant and smiling when 
in his presence. Her teeth must be white, her bands shapely, her shoes clean, 
and she must be silent at table, eat quietly and neatly, go daily to confession, 
and say her prayers often. 

2 The Councils of Montpellier, 1162, of Tours, 1163, of Paris, 1212. and of 
the Lateran, 1215, all prohibited monks and priests from practicing surgery. 
They must not mix the sacred and the profane, and especially must they 
not shed blood. Christians treated by Jews were to be excommunicated. A lay 
doctor must go to confession when he had a very sick patient. At the Council 
of I.e Mans still further restrictions were placed upon the practice of the 
clergy, who were absolutely prohibited from treating women, from accepting 
fees, and from dabbling in sorcery and magic. This law widened the breach 
between physicians and surgeons; and caused physicians to look down on sur- 
geons, giving the latter a professional handicap which it took them more than 
four hundred years to surmount. To this day in England surgeons are called 
“Mr.” rather than “Dr.” 




[T is true that disconnected facts such as these we are recording do 
not constitute a true scientific record; but, just as the geologist tries 
to reconstruct the life of an epoch by a few fossils in the broken ends of 
a stratum, so we, from these various isolated bits of record, must try to 
reconstruct the medical life of the period we are considering. If we 
know that some women studied medicine we may infer that others did. 
If, with their study of Galen and Dioscorides and Trotula, there was 
mixed folk-medicine and superstition and faith-healing, we have no 
reason for believing that the medical knowledge of the men physicians 
of the period was any better or any different. There was a leaning 
toward water-cures by baths and drinks in this century, and a common 
belief in the benefit of medicated sweatings. Weinhold (p. 1 59 ) 1 tells 
us of an abbess whose feet were frost-bitten. She rubbed them with 
salt and vinegar, heated tiles and put them into her bed, and then 
wrapped herself in the skins of animals and proceeded to sweat. 
In order to keep sweating she drank copious draughts of hot teas 
flavored with almond juice, pomegranates, and candied violets. The 
Beguin nurses 2 in the Netherlands were experts in this form of treat- 
ment, and as they made no charge for their services, they became very 
popular, often replacing men physicians who merely glanced at the 
urine, felt the pulse of the patient, prescribed some remedy to be com- 
pounded by the pharmacist, and charged a goodly sum. 3 This proves, 
as Chief Justice Hughes has said, that men, like ships, should be reck- 

1 Weinhold, Karl, “Fie Deutschen Frauen in dem Mittelalter,” 3rd edition, 
1897, vol. I, pp. 156-160. 

2 The Bcguincs of Flanders founded their nursing associations in 123k They 
formed free communities and lived in their own houses, made lace to sell, 
cooked their food, tended the sick, and were allowed to marry and leave the 
Order. There are many such colonies in Holland and Belgium today. These 
women dress simply as in the thirteenth century, but at present they are not 
as well educated as the graduates of the universities, nor as skilled as inde- 
pendent physicians. 

3 Withington tells us that Archimathaeus, himself a Salernitan physician, in 
the early years of the twelfth century, wrote a code of ethics for physicians 
very much like that of Trotula, a hundred years earlier. He says that the 
doctor should commend himself to God before seeing the patient, and from the 
messenger he should have obtained all the information possible about the 
sickness in order to impress the family with his own insight. He should praise 
the house and family, look grave when he first sees the patient, study his 
pulse and urine and mental condition, then become optimistic and cheerful 
but very guarded in his prognosis to the family, and very sure to collect his 
fee — although not seeming to be in haste. 


■oned by their displacement, and therefore the medical women with their 
somewhat superficial knowledge of medicine but with their natural 
intuition and powers of observation could and did displace men trained 
in universities, and forced them into shallow waters where, in silence 
and comparative ease, they might have time to write books, or to study. 

The fact that many of the great universities were in process of 
formation in the twelfth century has already been spoken of. The term 
'"university” meant, however, it must be remembered, not so much a 
building, or group of buildings, or a definite corporative organization, 
as simply a group of people united for the purpose of study. The students 
grouped themselves according to their nationality and language, although 
Latin was still the language of scholars. Many of the students begged 
their living from door to door ; and, though supposed to be celibates, they 
undoubtedly spent as much time with wine, women and song as with 
their studies. The different groups were united under rectors or deans, 
but all had a voice in important decisions. In the early universities 
classical literature often outweighed even the study of the Bible in im- 
portance. Vergil was as precious to Dante as the Hebrew prophets; and 
it is said that the emperor Frederick II, through his study of Aristotle, 
became almost an infidel at heart. What wonder, therefore, that the great 
translators of Aristotle, like Roger Bacon, were persecuted by the Church 
for heresies? Adamson 1 says: “The strength of the universities rested 
on their unity of belief, but this was also their weakness, since it exagger- 
ated the claim of authority, particularly that of the written word, and 
tended to continue a fixed routine which was actual for centuries.” 2 
As for the numbers of students in the universities authorities differ, but 
they vary from a reputed 6000 in Paris to 10,000 in Bologna — probably 
both estimates are exaggerated. 

As a rule the medical men of Paris in the thirteenth century were 
wealthy and influential ecclesiastics. Rashdall (p. 428 et seq. ) says that 
they had studied Galen for five or six years, together with Theophilus 
(of the seventh century) on the urine, and Isaac the Jew and Nicolas 

1 Crump and Jacobs, op. cit., article by J. W. Adamson, p. 284. 

2 There were fifteen universities in the thirteenth century, chiefly founded 
by Franciscans or Dominicans. Garrison (3rd edition, p. 166) tells us that 
the universities were founded in the following order: Paris in 1110, Bologna 
1158, Oxford 1167, Montpellier 1181, Padua 1222, Naples 1224, Cambridge 
1209, Salamanca 1243, Lisbon 1287, Coimbra 1288, and others following in the 
fourteenth century'. 



of Salerno on drugs. In Cologne a student learned some of the 
“Aphorisms” of Hippocrates, and was obliged to swear "quod non sit ex- 
comrnunicatus nec inf amis, nec homicida, n°c publicus cyrurgicus oper- 
ans cum fcrro et igne, nec transgressor statutorum, ncc uxoratus He 
also had to promise not to tend a patient whose bill to another physician 
had not been paid, nor " conversetur in practica cum Judeis practicanti- 
bus, aut cum illiteratis viris, aut mulieribus practicantibus.” This last 
clause is an indirect, but for that reason all the more convincing, 
proof that the medical profession of the period was by no means limited 
to men. 

Rashdall tells us that the studies in the medical courses in Italy, in 
the thirteenth century, were, on the other hand, based on Avicenna and 
the Arabs . 1 The university of Bologna was crowded and the professors 
were paid high salaries, but there were also many private medical schools 
in Italy maintained by the fees of the students. Astrology 2 was one of 
the most important subjects taught; for they had a saying that 
“medicine without astrology is an eye that can not see.” Women might 
matriculate at the Italian universities, since there was no opposition to 
admission of the laity of either sex; and monks and nuns attended the 
same classes. Standards were, however, low and instruction ran in 
narrow grooves. Women in the Italian universities, especially at the old 
school at Salerno, had to take the same examinations as men, and treat 
the same diseases, heal wounds and set bones. 

In England the universities were tightly closed against women, 
although the influence of the Crusades was distinctly favorable to their 
higher education. Teachers who had studied at institutions on the 
Continent took private pupils, and it was, therefore, no longer necessary 
to cross the Channel to obtain a medical education. 

While it was against the law for anybody to practice medicine in 
Paris without a license, many men and women were doing medical work 
who had not studied at the university, or who in any event had not 
studied long enough to receive the kiss and ring and diploma without 

' Garrison, Fielding H., Journal of the A. M. A., 1911, Vol. LVI, p. 24, says 
that in the thousand years of the Middle Ages only four “epoch-making'’ medi- 
cal men besides Galen stood out at the end of the period. They were Oribasius 
(A.D. 326-403), Alexander of Tralles (525-605), Aetius of Amida, also of the 
sixth century, and Paul of Aegina (625-690). 

3 Sarton says that astrology was popular because it seemed rational to con- 
nect the periodicity of the tides and of women’s menstruation with the course 
of the heavenly bodies. 

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From Ms. Aslimole, 399.) 


which they were prohibited from practice. 1 Among the medical women 
there must have been many midwives, for there were no “men mid- 
wives” before the sixteenth century, and then only a few. There were 
still great abbesses who taught medicine and obstetrics to their nuns, and 
some of them wrote books. 

Salerno still had a great medical school ; but it became, in the 
thirteenth century, a part of the university of Naples. In 1224 Frederick 
II ordered that a candidate for a license must be at least twenty-one 
years of age, and must have studied medicine and the arts for seven years. 
A surgeon was obliged to study one year longer than a physician in order 
to gain experience. 2 There was no college of arts at Salerno. 

In Montpellier, in southern France, was a medical school which was 
rapidly rivaling Salerno and Bologna. It gained the favor of the popes 
to such an extent that it was permitted to grant degrees long before any 
of the other universities had that privilege. One of its magisters was 
always chosen to be royal physician, with the right to practice ‘"in urbi 

1 The Chart. Univ. Paris, I, no. 453, in a translation issued by the history 
department of the University of Pennsylvania (1924-1925), shows us the 
courses in medicine in 1270-1274, and the form for licensing a bachelor. First 
the magister under whom the student has been taught had to testify to the 
chancellor, in the presence of the other masters called together for the purpose, 
as to the suitability of the bachelor. The latter must have studied medicine 
six years, if not already a graduate in arts. For the medical degree he must 
have “heard” the “Ars Medico; ’ twice — this included Galen, Theophilus and the 
other usual writers — the “Viaticum” twice — the books of Isaac on diets general- 
ally twice, the book of antidotes once, and perhaps the book of Gilles de Cor- 
beil, and something on the theory and practice of medicine. All this must be 
sworn to, and the punishment for perjury was severe. 

a From the “Golden Legend” we learn what the course of study for men and 
women of Salerno was during this century. (See Longfellow’s translation.) 
The students had to study logic for three years, 

“For none but a clever dialectitian 

Can ever hope to become a great physician.” 

Then came five years devoted wholly to medicine — 

“With lectures on chirurgical lore. 

And dissecting the bodies of swine 
As likest the humani form divine.” 

Their books were — 

“Mostly, however, books of our own, 

As Gariopontus Passionarius, 

And the writings of Mathew Platearius, 

And a volume universally known 
As the Regimen of the school of Salern, 

For Robert of Normandy written in terse 
And very elegant Latin verse.” 

1 he new doctor promised to visit his patients twice a day, and once at night 
if they lived in town, to take no pay from the poor, and to use no dishonest 
drugs. When he received his diploma his head was crowded with laurel; he was 
kissed on the cheek; a ring was placed on his finger; and he became Maqister 
Artium et Physicus. 



et orbi. Jews and Arabs, Christians and Mohammedans, men and 
women from all the adjacent countries, were to be found there as they 
were formerly found at Salerno. 

Matthew Paris, a monk of St. Albans, near London, wrote in this 
century a history of England, of which the twenty years before his death 
in 1259 represented a recording of actual facts. He knew of only five 
physicians in all London. “Possibly,” said he, “there might have been 
seven.” They were probably all ecclesiastics . 1 Even then London was 
a large city. In 1272 there were said to be “six serious physicians” in 
Pans, which then had between 150,000 and 200,000 inhabitants; but this 
evidently means six registered, or licensed, masters of medicine. The 
vows of celibacy were unpopular, and men preferred to practice without 
a license rather than to take vows. One result was that quacks and herb 
doctors were more numerous than ever before, along with women doctors 
and midwives, none of whom wore the characteristic gown and hood of 
the registered profession. In the tax lists of the property owners of 1292 
in Paris are the names and addresses of eight licensed " mirgesses,” who 
were also called miresses” and “ medeciennes .” 2 All of these were women 
doctors in a general sense, more learned than the “ventrieres" or mid- 
wives, and evidently more wealthy. They w r ere authorized to testify in 
medico-legal cases, to perform surgical operations, to bleed, etc. 3 These 
medical women must have studied in Italy or Montpellier, or with pri- 
vate masters; and w r e may suppose that they became teachers of other 
women. One of the documents found in Marseilles has a reference to 
such a ‘'medecienne,” Sara de St. Gilles, wife of a certain Abraham of 
Montpellier, as taking women “apprentices.” Gauthier de Coinsi 
speaks of her in the following lines: 

7 out le monde fait esmerveillier, 

En Sal erne, n’a Monspellier 
A ’« si bonne fisicienne 
Taut soit bonne medecienne 
Tons ceux sanes cui tv a touches . 

Lipinska tells us that during the reign of Philippe le Bel, a law was 
passed that certain private schools of medicine should accept young girls 
as students, and teach them several languages as well as medicine and 
surgery, in order that they might go to the Orient as missionaries, marry 
and convert native men, and heal the sick. T his law must have been 

Moore, Norman, “History of the Study of Medicine in the British Isles, 

* Franklin, Alfred, “La Vie Privee d’ Autrefois,” 1892, vol. Ill, Les Midecins, 
p. 5. 

* Fipinska, op. eit. pp. 117-120. 


little regarded, for we find nothing more about its results, but it shows 
us that for women doctors celibacy was not deemed necessary. 

It is said 1 that Paris had a population of 215,861 inhabitants in 
1292. No count has been found of the actual number of physicians in 
this population, except a record of 38 practitioners, men and women, 
most of whom, as we have seen, were probably practicing without any 
license. Among the thirty men, however, were several who were called 
“Master”; and it is interesting to note that, among the eight women, 
there seems to have been one Jewess. The women were all called 
“ mirgesses.” Judging from the high taxes they paid, they must have 
had good incomes. One of the men doctors is recording as having re- 
ceived an annual income of what would be thirty thousand gold francs 
at present. 

The list of these women is as follows: 

Isabiau, in the parish of Ste. Opportune. 

Haoys, in the village of St. Lorenz. 

Richeut, near the cemetery of St. John. 

Ysabel, rue de Frepillon. 

Dame Heloys, rue des Gardins. 

Phelippe, rue Gervese-Lohareuc. 

Dame Marie, rue de Lourcinnes. 

Sarre, a Jewess, at the Tacherie. 

Geraud 2 also says that Sarre, this Jewess, had a daughter, also a 
medical woman, who practiced in Paris a little later; and that there was 
a physician named Jehannette, daughter of “le mire Jehan,” who may 
also have been a Jew. These names were found by chance in a sort of 
directory of Paris dated 1292. 

One of the statutes of the University of Paris a little later contains 
the following clause: “No surgeon or apothecary, man or woman, shall 
undertake work for which he or she has not been licensed, or ‘approved’.” 
(Edicto praesenti statuimus uti in villa nullus cirurgicus nuilave cir- 
urgica prius examinati fuerint diligentcr et approbati in ipsa arte ac ab 
ipsis, etc .) 3 From this it is probably permissible to assume that, besides 
the few women licensed to practice, there were an indefinite number of 
others practicing without a license, liable to fines if complaint was made 

1 Franklin, op. cit. 

2 Geraud, H., “Paris sous Philippe le Bel,” 1837. 

3 Quoted by Lipinska, p. 120, from Isambert “Recueil des anciennes lois fran- 
qaise,” Edict of 1311, and E. Boileau, “Le livre des metiers,” titre 96, art. 4, de 

2 l6 


Two Women Surgeons Examining a Patient's Liver 

(From ii manuscript of the l)th Century) 


of their work, but otherwise unmolested. Unfortunately, their work was 
not always of the best any more than that of the men, for they may have 
failed to study obstetrics as earnestly as in the eleventh century under 
Trotula of Salerno. They no longer dared to perform version to save 
the life of the baby, nor did they try to protect the mother’s perineum 
as their ancestors had been taught. We read of one poor woman who 
was shaken violently while in labor, her pains having ceased, and sub- 
jected to strong external manipulations until the head of the child ap- 
peared at the vulva. In case such forcible methods were useless, a screw 
dilator was applied to the vagina and a fillet or hook applied to the pre- 
senting part of the infant in order to remove it piecemeal. 


Quizot says that the outstanding figure of this century was 

Louis IX, king of France. But to his mother, Blanche of Castile 
(1188-1252), who educated him, Louis confessed his indebtedness for 
whatever he accomplished during his reign. She taught him how to 
further Christian charity, to establish a sanitary code for his kingdom, 
to build hospitals, and to keep peace in the realm. For four years before 
her death she devoted herself to the work of the nursing sisters of Saint 

When Louis IX started for the Holy Land in 1248, he took with 
him a number of physicians, including one medical woman, Hersende, 
of the Order of Saint Cosmo, as “maitresse fisicienne When he started 
for Tunis, however, on the eighth Crusade in July, 1270, he was well pro- 
vided with physicians, chiefly men. Unfortunately, the voyage was 
rough and long, the weather hot, and plague raging at Tunis, so that the 
mortality among his followers was terrific, especially among the doctors 
and surgeons. Louis himself died of the plague at Carthage about the 
middle of August, attended only by his mass priest. 

The mother-in-law of Louis, Beatrice of Savoy, was as skilled in 
medicine as his own mother. She ordered Aldobrandino of Siena, her 
physician (who died in 1287), to write a medical encyclopedia 
for her to take on her journeys, when with a large retinue she visited 
her four daughters, the queens of France, Germany, Sicily, and England. 
This book, taken chiefly from Rhazes, Avicenna and Constantine, 1 was 

1 Sarton, vol. Ill, p. 1083. 



called the Regime du Corps. Haskins (p. 254) says it was translated 
from Greek into Latin, and from Latin into French, at the request of 
“Frederick, formerly emperor of Rome” (meaning Frederick II). The 
book was a compendium especially useful to women, dealing with diets, 
hygiene, gynecology, and the complexion. There was also a chapter on 
dissections, which, as we have seen, were rare, being permitted only 
where necessary to determine post mortem evidence as to the cause of 
death. Such dissections were prohibited entirely in France in A. D. 

1300, as was also the practice of cutting up and boiling the bodies of 
dead Crusaders in order to carry their bones back to their homes. The 
Jews abhorred blood, and did not care for dissecting; and the Christians 
were forbidden to open the human body — the “temple of the Holy 
Ghost” — a person committing such a deed without a permit being forth- 
with excommunicated. 1 

There were many medical women in France in the thirteenth 
century other than Sarre, the Jewess of Montpellier and those others 
already mentioned as licensed to practice in Paris, among them several of 
aristocratic birth who became historically famous. The Countess of 
Hainault and Madame de Valois, for example, born to riches and an 
easy life at court, educated themselves in medicine. They renounced 
the world and devoted their lives to the care of the sick. 

Perhaps the most devoted to medicine among the daughters of 
Blanche was Marguerite of Bourgogne, queen of Sicily. In 1293 2 she 
built a beautiful Gothic hospital at Tonnere, not far from Dijon in 
the Champagne country. Its wards were two hundred and seventy feet 
long and well ventilated; each bed was screened and comfortable; the 
ceilings were groined and high, and the long windows were filled with 
stained glass to represent Bible scenes. The chapel and library of this 
hospital are still standing among the ruins of the other buildings. 

According to the same plans, at Royaumont, twenty-five miles north 
of Paris, Blanche herself built a hospital, the charming refectory of 
which, built for its Cistercian monks, the beautiful Gothic cloisters, the 
choir and the scattered remains of the abbey church, chapter-house and 
library still stand. Martindale tells us that this hospital was built by 
the white robed monks themselves, and that among the laborers was the 
young king, Louis IX, who carried “his litter filled with stones and lime, 

1 In 1345 Guido of Vigevano made the following statement: “Quia 'prohibitum, 
est nb Ecclesia, facere anathomiam in corpore humano . . Sarton, vol. Ill, 

p. 1082. 

3 Martindale, Ixmisa, “The Woman Doctor and Her Future,” 1922, pp. 32, 69, 
et seq. 


and forming in his rich attire and pointed scarlet cap, a strange contrast 
to the task engaging him.” Curiously enough, it was in this old hospital 
that the women doctors of Great Britain operated a large modern army 
hospital during the Great War of 1914-1918. Four wards were ar- 
ranged in the old building, each holding ninety-six beds, the one in the 
library of the Cistercian monks being named for Blanche of Castile. 
The story of this later hospital has been so well told by Dr. Martindale 
that we need only refer here to her book. 


Spain and Portugal 

T HF, sister of Blanche, Urraca, queen of Portugal, was also famous 
for her hospital work and medical philanthropies; just as still 
another sister, Berengaria, queen of Castile and mother of Saint Ferdi- 
nand of Spain, was for her knowledge of medicine and sanitation, and 
for her personal devotion to the sick and suffering in her kingdom. That 
many of her country-women were competent to follow a medical treatise 
is shown by the brief “Thesaurus” of Peter Hispanensis, which was evi- 
dently written for popular practical use. 

Elizabeth of Aragon, born in 1271, 1 queen of Portugal after 
Urraca, founded a hospital at Coimbra near the new university, as well 
as a home for foundlings of which, it is said, she personally took charge. 
She died at the age of sixty-five from a “tumor of the arm.” 

Mention should also be made of Helen of Portugal, who, during 
famine and plague, lent her castles to the poor and personally cared for 
the sick. 

Bohemia, Silesia and Poland 

Queen Hedwig of Polish Silesia was as famous for her medical skill 
as Blanche, and as well supplied with relatives interested in medicine. 
Hedwig was mentioned in a previous chapter because she was born in 
the twelfth century (1174), but her main work in founding hospitals 
was done in the first half of the thirteenth century. She was the daughter 
of the powerful count of Meran and Andechs, and the wife of Henry 
the Bearded, first duke of Silesia, Poland, and Slavic Croatia. They had 
six children, each of whom lived to grow up and follow their mother in 

1 Kavanagh, Julia, “Women of Christianity,” 1853, pp. 105-113. 



medical paths. 1 * They founded nunneries, hospitals, and homes for 
lepers, where almost from their babyhood they studied the diseases of 
the patients. Hedwig had been educated at a convent in Kissingen ruled 
In her elder sister Mathilde, where the nuns were taught medicine as 
well as the arts; and, for her own convent at Trebnitz, near Breslau, 
she selected nuns from Kissingen and from Bamberg where Mathilde 
had studied. At her direction they wore bluish grey dresses with a black 
scarf, and discarded the conventional wimples in order to simplify the 
laundry work. They were especially devoted to the care of lepers, 
“tending them with great love and helpfulness.” 

Hedwig died in 1243. 2 Her son Heinrich married Anna, a princess 
of Bohemia, who was as well trained, medically, as her mother-in-law. 
Anna took for her specialty “forlorn children and orphans,” and those 
who had fever. 3 In 1253 she founded a nunnery and hospital at Kreutz- 
berg, and another at Neumarkt, both of which are still in existence. 
Her husband, like many rulers of his century, came to a violent end, his 
head being impaled on the walls of Breslau. Anna thereafter devoted 
her entire time to her medical work, in this emulating her sister Agnes, 
her cousin Elizabeth, and their common friend, Saint Clara. 

1 his Agnes, whose betrothed, the Emperor Frederick II, died before 
their marriage, lived in the great castle on the hill in Prague near the 
convent and hospital connected with the cathedral. Every day, it is said, 
she might have been seen “sweeping and perspiring” in the kitchen, 
cooking or cleaning like any servant. In little alchemists’ laboratories 
nearby some of the monks were experimenting to make gold or to find 
the elixir of life. Both she and Anna were friends of St. Francis, and 
of his devoted sister Saint Clara, of Assisi, and from them they fre- 
quently received encouragement in letters, and presents of holy relics. 4 
Eckenstein says, p. 297 , that Agnes, daughter and sister of kings as she 
was, “behaved in this way [that is, as a physician] not only to those who 
were ill, but to those who were healthy, teaching hygiene and the proper 
care of babies wherever she found hearers”; and that for those who were 
ill she “spread soft beds and carefully removed all that could offend eye 

1 “With wonderful tenderness she attended upon those who were afflicted 
with bodily ills,” says Eckenstein, p. 294; quoted from Wolfskron, “Bilder der 
H” 1846. 

1 Iledwig was canonized in 1267. 

3 Eckenstein, “Woman Under Monastieism,” 1896, pp. 296, 296, 297. 

* After the death of Saint Clara her drinking cup and plate, prayer-book and 
veil were sent to Agnes. 

Saint Elizabeth in Her Dispensary, 13th Century. 

(From a painting by Murillo.) 


or nose in order the sooner to heal wounds, cure the sick, and relieve 
pain.” She died in 1282. 

It is a sad commentary on human nature to learn that the charitable 
work of these royal women made their hospitals so popular that many 
feigned leprosy by scarifying their skin and infecting it, or by irritating 
chronic ulcers in order to simulate the symptoms of the disease. The 
example of these self-sacrificing women was contagious. Medical work 
was taken up by women of all classes with great fervour; and innumer- 
able leper asylums were set up all over the known world. 

In Poland 1 the name of a Johanna Medica is preserved because of 
the charitable medical work that she did. Queen Cunegunde took vows 
of humility, poverty, and charity; and a certain Salome, who lived not 
far from Cracow, “worked day and night for the salvation of souls, and 
for the healing of bodies.” It is probable that there were also many 
Jewish women practicing medicine and midwifery in Poland at that 


One of the most noted medical women of this century was, how- 
ever, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. 2 She was born in the royal palace 
of Presburg, not far from Buda, in 1207, the daughter of Andreas II 
of Hungary and Gertrude, Hedwig’s sister. During babyhood it is said 
Tat even her touch “healed the blind.” At the age of seven, she was 
taken to the Court of Thuringia to be betrothed to the boy who was 
to be its king, Louis, son of the Count Palatine of Saxony and Land- 
grave of Thuringia. Wrapped in silk embroidered with gold and silver, 
she was laid on a golden bed beside the little Louis, aged eleven. His 
father was one of the great men of Europe, a nephew of the emperor 
Frederick Barbarossa; and in his castle on the Wartburg above Eisenach 
the two children were educated, not only in religion and philosophy but 
probably also in medicine, since we are told that they learned how to 
treat “every kind of distress.” 

When Elizabeth was sixteen years old her first baby was born, and 
during the following four years three more, each one of whom Elizabeth, 
barefooted, carried to church in her arms for baptism. After the fourth, 
Louis started on a crusade to the Holy Land, leaving the young mother 

1 Lipinska, op. eit. p. 125. 

2 Walsh, Janies J., “The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries,” 1909, p. 327. 
Heusinger, Carl Friederich, “Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary,” i. e. Ge- 

schichte des Hospitals S. Elizabeths in Marbury. 1846. 

Montalembert, Charles Forbes, Count of, “The Life of Saint Elizabeth,” 1904. 



to care not only for her family and estates, but also to do medical work 
in person among all the poorest of her people. 

Louis died at Brindisi on his way home in 1227. For a time Eliza- 
beth and her little family were sent to the monastery at Erfurt, where 
they endured many privations; but they suffered them patiently, and 
shared with those poorer than themselves what food and warmth they 
had. Later, however, they were reinstated in the castle at Marburg, 
where Elizabeth quickly resumed her old work. It is possible to picture 
her, descending the hill from the castle with her little children, carrying 
her surgical dressings and medicines, food and flowers, to the sick and 
needy. Although her life was short, less than twenty-four years, there 
was something beautiful and unselfish in her character which has made 
her live in the minds of the people of Europe for six hundred years, the 
true spirit of the medical missionary. She had many offers of marriage, 
even one from the emperor Frederick II, but she preferred to live her 
own life as a widow until her early death in 1230. Even after she was 
buried in the beautiful Gothic church at Marburg, her body was believed 
to work miracles. 

Painters have always represented Elizabeth as very beautiful, every 
inch a queen, dressed in long-trained garments of black velvet trimmed 
with ermine, her head covered with a gold and purple veil; but tradition 
says that she wore these rich gowns for the sake of the court conventions, 
and that beneath them she wore a coarse, haircloth shirt. 


In many parts of Germany women were devoting their time, both 
in the convent 1 and out in the world, to quiet devotions and the care of 
the sick. Weinhold 2 says that they knew as much of the healing art 
as the men of the universities, though perhaps not so much of the science 
of medicine. They had been taught folk medicine, the knowledge of 
herbs and roots — along, it is true, with symbolic remedies, stones, signs, 
prayers and amulets. Some of their ancestors had been priestesses as 
well as healers in heathen times, and they had studied the medical works 
of Saint Hildegard. 

1 The author of the “Holy Maidenhood" in the thirteenth century called the 
nun the free woman, and contrasted her with the wife, who in his eyes was a 
slave. (Eckenstein, p. 182.) I.ater, however, in the sixteenth century, Eras- 
mus said that the women of the convents were slaves as opposed to the free 
woman of the home, who was then well protected and gently treated. 

J Weinhold, Karl, "Die Deutschen Frauen in dem Mittelalter,” 1882, vol. I, p. 


Of these women, mention should be made of Mechthild of Hacke- 
dorn and Magdeburg, 1 a woman of the nobility, born in 1212, and edu- 
cated in the nunnery of Helfta. She was one of the uncloistered nuns, 
like the Beguines, devoting her life to teaching and visiting patients, 
and her nights to writing visions in poetic style. She was at once a 
mystic and a strong-minded and active woman of the world. “Thou 
shalt keep the sick cleanly and feed them well in order to strengthen them 
for God’s service,” she writes, and then she proceeds to put her words into 
practice, and to prepare an ointment of rose leaves for healing the sores of 
her patients, and she prescribes sweet smelling flowers to brighten their 
rooms, and places cooling lotions on their foreheads, but at the same 
time, curiously enough, she never loses an opportunity to denounce or 
criticize the clergy. In the course of time she retired to the convent at 
Einsiedeln to write and copy manuscripts. Her Superior was Gertrude 
of Helfta (d. 1 3 1 1 ) the abbess, who also wrote visions. Mechthild died 
in 1282; and, according to some authorities, it was she whom Dante 
saw in Paradise (Canto XXVIII). There was also at least one queen 
in this century who studied and practiced medicine, Margaret, wife of 
Conrad IV of the Holy Roman Empire, who, following the teachings of 
Saint Clara, went about, day and night, to save bodies as well as souls. 


Unfortunately, we know the names of very few of the medical 
women of England in the thirteenth century. Mabel Rich, 2 mother of 
St. Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury, was often referred to by him 
in his writings. He said that she devoted her whole life to the poor and 
the sick. The abbess Euphemia, of the Benedictine nunnery of Wher- 
well, in Hampshire, “with maternal piety and careful forethought “built 
for the sick and sound” a large infirmary, where she tended the sick, 
having, as the chronicler says, “the spirit of a man rather than of a 
woman.” The importance of the medical work done at the nunnery 
at Sion near London, a house of the order of the Swedish Saint Bridget, 
has already been mentioned. The Abbess of Shaftesbury, Agnes Ferrar, 
was summoned to Chester to take part in the war, in 1257. Twenty 
years later the abbess, Juliana Baucyn, had a similar mission, showing 
their acknowledged importance to the army in more ways than as nurses. 
For all the medical men and women of England a whole encyclopedia 
of medicine was written in this century, the teaching at Oxford and. 

1 Eckenstein, p. 328, et. seq. 

3 Walsh, James J., “The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries,” 1909, p. 327. 



Cambridge being more religious than medical. Edina Rittle, from St. 
Bartholomew’s Hospital, in London, was perhaps the same medical 
woman who had charge of the great Pantocrator Hospital in Constanti- 
nople during the later Crusades. 


Scandinavian women were in the thirteenth century doing much the 
same kind of medical work as in earlier times. In Scandinavia it was 
chiefly to women that both men and women turned in sickness, famous 
healers being brought from afar to treat serious cases. In the classics 
of the late Middle Ages we still find “wilde wiben” and “fairies” teach- 
ing women how to hind up wounds, and where to find roots and herbs for 
medicine. 1 

Despite the coming of Christianity, the deities of the old folk lore 
were still powerful. Frigg, or Freya, was supposed to preside over 
childbirth, and had to be invoked constantly and presented with gifts; 
and the prayers and incantations to her in the “ Ecldas” were commonly 
used in the lying-in room. The sister of Etzel kneels at Borgnv’s bed, 
and chants such hymns. There was always much superstition among the 
peasants of the Far North. Indeed stories of “ meerwibe” and gnomes 
are still told to children. 2 3 


Of the Italian medical women of the thirteenth century, Sarti 8 tells 
us many interesting facts. The wives and daughters of doctors, or other 
learned men, also studied at the universities and led very independent 
liv es. They were great bibliophiles. We read that Adele, wife of John 
of Assisi, left fifty books and her reading desk full of copying implements 
to the “brothers,” together with her rugs, silver, and vases, a house in 
Florence, and three hundred books “made” in Pisa. A certain Beatrice 
left two hundred and forty books to her husband. There was also a 
Tacobina Medica, daughter of a certain Bartholomeus, of whom even 
Guy dc Chauliac, in 1304, spoke highly as a surgeon. 

But they did more than read books. Walsh, 4 * * * quoting from “The 

1 Schultz, Ahvin, "Dns II of ache Leben znr zeil (lev Minnesinger,” 1889, vol. I, 

pp. 200-202. 

3 This was the ccnturv of the Icelandic "Prosen Jidda, ” where we find women 

as surgeons, rnidwives and physicians. 

Sarti, Mauro, "lie Claris A rchiggmnasii Bonoviensis Professoribus,” 1888, 

vol. II, p. 218. 

« Walsh, James J., “Medieval Medicine,” 1930, p. 104 

gmatlfomia tU u 
tjxni iSmeData y 

Lecture on Anatomy by Mundinus. 

.1 ico w an is prosector , probably Alcssuvclra Cjihuni. 


History of the Anatomy School in Bologna,” mentions one Alessandra 
Giliani as having become “most valuable as a dissector and assistant to 
Mondino,” the anatomist, because she could “cleanse the smallest vein, 
the arteries, all ramifications of the vessels, without lacerating or dividing 
them, and prepare them for demonstration. She would fill them with 
various colored liquids, which, after having been driven into the vessels 
to their minute branches, colored them so perfectly that added to the 
wonderful explanations and teachings of the master it brought him 
great fame and credit.” When Alessandra died, “consumed by her 
labors,” a tablet to her memory and skill was placed in the hospital 
church of Santa Maria de Mereto in Florence. This tablet tells us 
also that her lover was so grieved at her death that he himself had “a 
swift and lamentable death.” A bas-relief in Bologna, of which there is 
a copy at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Philadelphia, shows 
Mondino seated in a high chair reading. Many of his auditors seem to 
be women. In another picture (dated 1318) we see a long-haired girl 
demonstrating the organs of an anatomical subject while Mondino sits 
in the same high chair above the table apparently explaining the dissec- 
tion. Perhaps this girl was Alessandra Giliani. 

Capparoni 1 mentions Constantia Mammana (d. 1308) as a noted 
midwife of this period. 

Among the teachers at Salerno during this century the names of 
three women have come down to us, all of them cited as writers of 
medical treatises. We even know the titles or subject matter of their 
books, but the books themselves have not survived. Abella, a Roman, 
wrote “De Atrabile et de natura se/ninis humani” ; Mercuriade, a 
surgeon, wrote on the crisis in fevers, on ointments, and on the cure of 
wounds; Rebecca, of the Guarna family, probably not a Jewess, wrote of 
fevers, the urine, the embryo, etc. 2 

Walsh 3 says that, apparently, from the early thirteenth century there 
were women students at the university of Bologna; and, in fact, that 
properly prepared women have always been admitted to Italian uni- 
versities, where also some of them became professors, like Maria di 
Novella, who was at the head of the department of mathematics at the 
age of twenty-five. He also says that hospitals operated during this 
century by the medical women soon replaced those under the care of 
men, for the former were neat and clean ; such women were speedily able 

1 Capparoni, Pietro, “Magistri Salernitani nondum Cogniti.” 1923. 

2 Lipinska, p. 99. 

a Walsh, op. cit., p. 330-331. 



to reduce the number of cases of skin diseases and of all those diseases 
whose origins lie in a faulty diet, dirt, and general unsanitary 

In V enice, at this time, there was a medical woman named 
Ghilic-tta Medica, and another named Beatrice, the widow of Gherardo 
di Candida. 1 Although we have only the names of these women, 
that alone is a cause for gratitude when so many others have probably 
been lost. 

Jewish Medicnl Women 

I here is reason to believe that Jewish women were practicing medi- 
cine in all parts of Europe in the thirteenth century. In the Hebrew 
religion hygiene is of the first importance; and both the Old Testament 
and the 1 almud are full of hygienic regulations. Bayle (“Physicians 
of the Middle Ages in Avignon”) says that, although the Jews were 
under the ban of the Church and Christians who employed them were 
to be excommunicated, 2 nevertheless they were such excellent doctors 
that most of the nobility and royalty, and indeed several prelates of the 
Church, did employ Jewish physicians; as did also many of the Moham- 
medan rulers. 

Isaac Israeli, a learned Jew of the ninth century, had been physician 
to two Caliphs; and, in every subsequent century for five hundred years, 
Mohammedan rulers, even the great Saladin, employed Jews as phy- 
sicians rather than Arabs. Isaac’s book on fevers was translated into 
Latin, French, and Hebrew, and used at the University of Paris after 
1270 as a text-book. As Hebrew women had always shared in the medical 
work of their race, and had done all of the midwifery, there is reason 
to believe they continued to do so. According to Bcaugrand, there were 
in southern France during this century many Jewish medical women 
from Spain, educated probably at Salerno. Although they were unmerci- 
fully hunted as heretics, they were nevertheless loath to pretend to be 

Mention should be made here of one man-midwife of this century, 
perhaps because he was exceptional, like a certain man teacher of ob- 
stetrics in Cairo before the year 1000. This thirteenth century obste- 
trician was Abulpharagus (1226-1286), a Jew, otherwise called Farag, 

1 Burckhardt, “Die Guitar der Renaissance in Jtalien,’' 1869, vol. I, p. 363. 

2 In 1246 at the Church Council at Beziers in France, Christians were again 
prohibited from employing Jewish physicians. The brother of Ixmis IX of 
France, however, sent for Abraham of Aragon to treat him for eye trouble. 

Patients in a Hospital, 13th Century, Attended by 
Women Physicians. 

(Front a contemporary manuscript.) 



or Farraguth, or Farradj ben Selim, or Moses Farachi, a Salernitan 
employed at the court of Charles of Anjou in 1282, who lived part of 
the time in Girgenti, Sicily, and in Malta. He wrote a book on gyne- 
cology and obstetrics, in the main translated from Rhazes, ostensibly for 
the midwives of his day, in which he claimed to have had great experi- 
ence. There are records which seem to show that the first Caesarian 
section of the Middle Ages was performed by a Jewish surgeon one 
hundred years before Farraguth; but this honor has been claimed 
by many. 


H ISTORIANS find, in the lays of the troubadours and the songs of 

the minnesingers, most valuable information concerning the daily 
life of the men and women of the period. As in the twelfth century, so 
in the thirteenth, such romances were popular everywhere ; and there 
was no difficulty in gathering an audience either in the castle or in the 
market places to listen to their recital — deeds of heroism and miracu- 
lous escapes from death, accident, war, and disease. In most of these 
stories, whether they were from the far away countries to the south or 
east, or from the north, Germany and Scandinavia, the heroines were 
not only beautiful but brave. 

The significant thing for us in these old romances is that we 
find among them many who seemed to be able, in a way that their audi- 
tors evidently took as a matter of course, to perform daring operations, 
heal infected wounds, prepare sleeping potions, and administer antidotes 
to poisons. The ladies of the times, it seems, were always equipped with 
all necessary first-aid remedies, always able to “physick and patch up 
their knights”; and the audiences to whom the troubadours sang were 
apparently ready to believe the most incredible stories of their medical 

Examples of this sort of incident are innumerable. The wife of 
the injured merchant is fortunately at hand to undress her husband, 
bathe him in medicated water and give him a sleeping potion. The 
daughter of Guyon-le-Gris, in the “Roman de la Violette revives 
Gerard by baths and hot drinks. Melisande cured her father, the king, 
of a great melancholy by the same means ; and Parthenope could heal 
the mind as well as the heart, for she had studied the arts, and after- 



wards medicine, "A pres apris tote mecine, Quart quest en erbe et en 

In the Charlemagne Romances, the “Chansons de geste Saracenic 
women like Guaite, Alfamie, Belamer and others seemed always provi- 
dentially on the spot to remove the armor of a wounded knight, and treat 
him by surgery, medicine, or baths. To set bones or bandage an arm or 
a leg was routine work for such heroines as Floripas, Nicolettc, Rosa- 
monde and Clarisse; Helen of Troy, Odelis, Ysolt and her mother had 
remedies on hand, it appeared, for every' sort of pain and fever. The 
daughter of Lycurgus, " savoit molt de mecine” ; the daughter of the 
Lord of Orleans knew all that was necessary of surgery and bandaging; 
and the sister of Aslardin “en aus gari tant entendi” ; while a woman 
of the “Fabliaux” although admitting “Ne sui pliisicienne ne prestre,” 
adds that she is able to cure all diseases. 

There are in these tales frequent references to Salerno and Mont- 
pellier as the places where women were taught all medical subjects. A 
certain king’s daughter is said to have a relative, who had practiced in 
Salerno for more than thirty years, and “knew the art of physic and of 
herbs” because “Fart de phisike a tant use Que mult est saine de mes- 
cines.” Rutebeuf (1245-1285), a trouvere of the thirteenth century 
who wrote a metrical life of Saint Elizabeth, also wrote a popular tale 
called the “Dit de I’herbcrie,” a dramatic monologue supposed to be 
spoken by a quack doctor, which mentions Trotula of Salerno as though 
she were still practicing at the time. He calls her “Madame Trote de 
Salerne . . . e’est la plus sage dame qui soit en z quatre parties dou mondr.” 
He is fond of making puns on the name of this “wisest woman in all 
four corners of the world,” and on that of Hippocrates, which in fact 
had lent itself to a famous medicinal wine, “hippocras,” much liked by 

In the “Lais” of Marie de Prance, a woman removes the arrow 
from the thigh of Guigemar, and dresses his wound with “ un bel drap 
de chesnil blanc.” In Godefroi de Strasbourg’s tale of Tristan, Morold 
is told that Isolde is the only person who can heal Tristan’s wounds; and, 
after the fight with the dragon, she and her mother remove his armor, 
examine his body carefully, and revive him with theriac, in fear lest he 
had been poisoned. When Riwalin, one of Tristan’s knights, is wounded 
in battle, it is Blanchcflcur, disguised as a woman doctor, who heals 
him. When Regnault de Corne’s nephew needs to be bled, it is his 


daughter Bertha who is sent for to perform the operation. But, before 
beginning the process, he insists that she reread carefully all the direc- 
tions for it from Hippocrates! 

In the “Romance of Perceval” there is mention of a great physician 
who takes three young women as pupils on a long journey. While at 
the court of King Arthur Perceval wounds the arms of the bailiff, and 
this great physician, and his three woman assistants, are sent for to 
heal him: 

Un mire moult sage 
Et trois puceles de I’escole 
Qai le renoent la canole; 

Et puis li out son bras lu6 
Et rasoldS Vos esnicie. 

Women like this know how to arrange a comfortable litter for a wound- 
ed knight, and have him carried home as in an ambulance, either by 
men or by horses. In some cases they even swing the litter between 
four horses, and take the patient to an improvised tent, where they make 
for him a bed of boughs and grass and blankets, and there dress his 

As in France so in Germany. In the tales of the thirteenth century 
by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzifal and Willehalm we find Cundry 
curing the wounds of Parzifal with various herbs, and putting him to 
sleep with mandrake. Gyburg heals Willehalm with blue diptam, vine- 
gar and flowers. In the Gudrun Epic, about 1250, we find that “wild 
women” taught Queen Wate medicine, especially how to use aphrodisiacs, 
and emmenagogues. 1 

In one of the Scandinavian Eddas there is an interesting account 
of a sort of outdoor clinic at which a medical man named Menglod sits 
in the midst of nine women pupils, to whom are brought sick women 
as patients. Weinhold 2 also quotes a story from the “Hrothmunda 
Saga” : Svanhvit’s husband is so wounded in the abdomen in battle that 
his bowels gush out. She is sent for. He has replaced his intestines by 
the time she arrives. She then sews up the wound and bandages it 
so well, that he goes back into the fight. In the “Sturlunga Saga ” 3 
Ingigerd, the king’s daughter, builds a little hospital, in which she and 
other women prescribe for and nurse patients. 

1 Schelenz, Herman, “Geschichte der Pharmacie.” 1904, pp. 384-420, is author- 
ity for the statement that women were in those days commonly pharmacists, 
though not always the proprietors of such shops. 

2 Weinhold, Ch., “Altdeutsches Leben,” Chap. VII-VIII, pp. 385-389. 

3 The Sturlunga Saga is the family history of Sturla Thordarson (1214-1284), 
or that part of the history between 1116-1264. 




A LTHOUGH the French king, St. Louis, as has been mentioned, 

died from the plague without medical attention and almost alone, 
he had built hospitals in many parts of France for his subjects, and had 
organized a new school of medicine in Paris to which laymen and married 
men might be admitted. Here Lanfranc, driven from all other schools 
because of his marriage, taught large classes. This new college was a 
long step forward despite the fact that it did not admit women. It is 
quite possible that if Queen Blanche had been appealed to by a united 
body of midwives or other intelligent women, the whole question of the 
higher education of women might have been settled in their favor in the 
thirteenth century. But they were not organized ; and it is doubtful 
that they would have matriculated in great numbers even at the school 
of St. Cosmas. 

These hospitals built by Saint Louis, like those of Marguerite of 
Bourgogne, his sister, were of the type of the age, with high vaulted 
ceilings, long mullioned windows, and delicate carvings. They were 
supplied with water through lead pipes, and properly drained, although 
excreta were carted off for fertilizer. Saint Louis also built a large 
hospital in Paris, and improved the old Hotel Dieu so as to make it more 
sanitary and comfortable. In Montpellier there was so fine a hospital 
that its arcaded wards were taken as the model for many new hospitals in 
Italy and Germany; and, when Lanfranc went to England to reorganize 
the old hospitals of St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas 1 he did it according 
to the new plan. (Incidentally he had the attendants wear simple wash- 
able garments, especially if they were caring for lepers or cases of fever.) 

Pope Innocent III is known in history as a relentless persecutor of 
heretics; but he also promoted hygiene and built hospitals. Through his 
efforts leprosy and other skin diseases began to diminish, and sanitation 
took a long step forward. 

Probably the most magnificent hospital of the thirteenth century 
was however, not in Europe at all, but in Africa, the one at Cairo, built 
and equipped by the Calif Al Mansur in 1283. Connected with it, we 
are told, was a large medical library, a mosque, an academy, an orphan- 
age, a home for convalescents, and an external arcade surrounding a 

1 Clay, Rotha Mary, “The Medieval Hospitals of England,” 190i. 



garden where fountains splashed and the air was sweet with orange 
blossoms. To complete the picture the walls of the wards were decorated 
with green and gold tiles, the windows were filled with jewelled glass, 
the floors were made of inlaid marble or enamelled brick. Clinic rooms 
and lecture halls were connected with it. Nor is this altogether excep- 
tional. In such another Muslim city, Cordova, there were, we are 
told, fifteen large hospitals and a sort of primitive visiting nurse associa- 
tion, as well as free hostels where weary men and women, and their 
animals, might spend the night in comparative comfort. 

Virchow 1 and Burdette 2 both insist that by the end of the thirteenth 
century there were literally thousands of hospitals and leprosanitaria in 
Europe, built by monarchs, priests and princes, by good women and by 
rich merchants, who hoped thereby to gain merit in the next world. As 
a sort of unintended by-product they gave the thousands of women tend- 
ing their patients a congenial occupation and a means of real self-expres- 
sion. Permanent organizations of nursing sisters were founded here and 
there among the churches. Miss Nutting calls these nursing Orders the 
advance guard of woman’s emancipation . 3 At the beginning of the four- 
teenth century there were two hundred thousand women nurses fear- 
lessly going about the streets and country roads visiting patients and 
treating their diseases. They wore simple, warm, and comfortable cos- 
tumes, and were protected from harm by the authorities of Church and 
State alike. 

In Italy at this time were the Gray Nuns of St. Francis and the 
Poor Clares, the members of which were probably as competent to care 
for the sick as most of those who called themselves physicians. They 
diagnosed mainly by sight and smell, working generally quite inde- 
pendently of the “mcigisters.” These nurses had studied with other 
women, and had cultivated their memories assiduously, for books were 
scarce. In Siena the old hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, opposite 
the great cathedral, is still in use, its nurses wearing the same costumes, 
and doing much the same kind of work as they did in the thirteenth 
century. Although there are no longer lepers, or victims of the plague 
or famine, among their patients, there are still foundlings, and women 

1 Virchow, Rudolph, “Krankenhduser und Hospiialwesen.” Ges. Abhandl. 
a. d. Gdbiete d. offentlichen Medicin. u. d. Seuchenlehre, vol. II, 1872. 

2 Burdette, H. C., “Hospitals and Asylums of the World,” 1893, vol. 3. 

3 Nutting, M. Adelaide, and Dock, Lavinia L., “A History of Nursing,” 1907, 
vol. I, pp. 260-265. 



having babies, and wounded men, and deranged people, to be cared for. 
Eckenstein tells us * 1 the beds of the patients in those days were com- 
fortable. They were stuffed with moss, and covered with leather to 
keep out moisture, and at the head of each bed stood a table upon which 
were certain eating utensils, along with food and a urinal. These were 
the hospital conditions that were common throughout France and Italy 
up until the advent of trained nursing in the nineteenth century. 

Not all the hospitals of the thirteenth century were of this large 
public type. Many a humble woman took patients into her house; and 
many a rich woman gave up a portion, if not all, of her dwelling to the 
care of the sick. 1 hey personally tended their patients, and frequently, 
as in the case of Queen Hedwig of Poland and Margaret of Germany, 
their passion for this work amounted to an obsession. In 1287 in 
Florence, Portinari, the father of Dante’s Beatrice, gave his whole house 
with its twelve beds into the care of Mona Tessa, a skilled medical 
woman who is thought to have been the founder of the order of the 
Oblates . 2 1 he Sforzas of Milan gave one of their palaces for a hospital; 
and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice was originally a hospital of 
this type. 

In I* ranee, the work of the Augustinian nuns in the hospitals of the 
period was of the hardest sort. Although St. Louis tried to improve their 
condition, they had no independence; and there was almost no limit 
to their hours of labor. Severely punished bv their superiors for even 
minor offences, they wore haircloth shirts under their robes, and for 
humility s sake ate from off the floor. Besides their nursing work, it was 
their duty to cremate still-born babies, and to do all the hospital washing 
in the col cl water of the river. At first the}' were ruled by a prioress of 
their own choosing, but before the end of the century this privilege was 
refused them. Dr. Annie Hamilton, 3 in her inaugural thesis, says that 
in the early fourteenth century nursing ranks were filled by women of 
the nobility who devoted their means and their lives to the care of the 
sick. In 1271 Gregory X tried to bring all such women definitely under 
the rule of the Church; but this was more easily ordered than obtained, 
for there were certain women, successors of Blanche and Hedwig, who 
dared to defy even the head of the Church. 

1 Eckenstein, Lina, “Women Under Monasticism,” 1 80(5, p. 294. 

3 Nutting and Dock, op. cit., vol. I, p. 241. 

1 Hamilton, Annie Emilie, “Considerations sur les Infirmiires des Htipitavx,” 


Women Doctors and Nurses in the 13th Century. 

An interior view of Rahere’s hospital at St. Bartholomew’ s Church in 


Queen Blanche’s Hospital at Royaumont. The Refectory. 

( From Martindale’ s : “The Woman Doctor and her Future,’’ by permis- 
sion. ) 





W E have little room for even a resume of the work of the men 
physicians of this century, but a list of the names ot those 
who mentioned women doctors as their contemporaries, is interest- 
ing. Among the Englishmen whose names might be singled out were 
Roger Bacon (1214-1292), Michael Scot (1175-1232), Bernard 
Gordon, a teacher at Montpellier (1283-1307), Gilbertus Anglicus, 
the teacher of Bernard (died in 1230), and Bartholomew Glanville 
(died in 1283). 1 In Germany there were, among others, the famous 
Aristotelian teacher at Cologne, Albertus Magnus (1193-1260), and 
his Italian pupil, the “Angelic Doctor,” Thomas Aquinus (died in 
1274). In France there were Vincent of Beauvais (died 1292), the 
surgeon Henri de Mondeville (1260-1320), and the great Italian 
teacher at the College of St. Cosrnas, already mentioned, Lanfranc 
of Milan (died in 1315). In Italy we find the two Salernitan sur- 
geons, Roger and Roland, whose joint book, written in 1250, was the 
basis of all surgical work for several hundred years. In Spain there 
were Peter of Abano (1250-1320), Petrus Hispanensis or Hispanus, 
Pope John XXI (1220-1277), Arnald of Villanova (1235-1311), and 
Raymond Lull or Lully (1235-1315), the early medical missionary 
to North Africa. All of these writers mentioned medical women whom 
they had seen or known. 

Many of these men were teaching priests, either Dominicans or 
Franciscans. Saint Dominic died in 1221, and Saint Francis five years 
later. Each had made a tremendous impression on the people of Europe, 
and had a great following. Robert Grosseteste, who died 1253, was a 
Franciscan, while Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas were Domini- 
cans, the Dominicans being the so-called Black, or Preaching, Friars. 

All these men tried once more to interpret Aristotle. They were 
scholastics, schoolmen, dogmatic at the expense of being practical. 
Withington 2 remarks that Roger Bacon “wrote as if he had the philoso- 
pher’s stone up his sleeve, and the elixir of life behind his back,” but for 

1 Garrison, Fielding H., “History of Medicine,” ed. 1913, p. 110. Also Garri- 
son’s article, “The Historical Collection of Medical Classics in the Library of 
the Surgeon General’s Office.” Jour, of the American Medical Association, 
June 17, 1911, pp. 1785-1792. 

2 Withington, E. T., “The Authorities and estimate ... of Bacon’s medical 
references, vol. IX, p. 31, De Retardatione accidentum senectutis, in Opera 
hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi. 1928. Also articles by Robert Steele in 
Singer’s “Studies and Methods of Science,” vol. II. Also Thorndike, Lynn, 
“Magic and Experimental Science,” vol. II. 



all that he was a real philosopher, and so zealous an experimenter, that 
twenty years of his life were spent in prison for his “heresies.” Material 
as Bacon’s contributions were in other fields of learning, in medicine they 
were slight. 

The books of Bernard Gordon, John of Gaddesden, and Bartholo- 
mew Glanville were of more practical value as medical text-books than 
the great “Speculum” which Bacon projected. These Englishmen 
had studied in Salerno, Montpellier and Paris. They could translate 
from Arabic and write in Latin, and they tried to enlighten their 
countrymen as to the latest methods in the diagnosis and cure of disease. 
Each gave his books a literally flowery title; Bernard’s was “The Lily 
of Medicine,” John’s the “ Rosa Atiglica.’’ 1 Bernard hinted at the con- 
tagiousness of phthisis, anthrax, erysipelas, and even epilepsy. He also 
praised the “obstetrix” of his day, with her “long, slim fingers, and 
gentle hands, her ability to dilate the os uteri expeditiously, and to place 
tampons where they could do the most good in healing vaginal or uterine 
diseases.” John was more of a believer in drugs than Bernard. But he 
also was the child of his age, and advised the use of charms and amulets, 
and of remedies of the “shot-gun” variety, containing from fifty to 
seventy-five ingredients, many of them difficult to obtain. 

Bartholomew Glanville, or Anglicus, another Englishman of this 
period, called his book “De Proprietatis Rerum.” This was a medical 
text-book which was often copied and early printed (Basle, 1470, 
England, 1495) and used by students for generations. Shakespeare saw 
a copy of it. It was illustrated — unusual at this time. There is one 
picture of an autopsy at which only men are present ; but another picture 
shows a sort of pharmaceutical laboratory of which a woman seems to 
be in charge, for she is seated, sorting herbs and directing the labors of 
two students. 2 These men had studied in Salerno and Montpellier and 
were accustomed to see women as doctors. 

In Italy Peter of Abano, a Paduan scholastic philosopher, was 
burned in effigy for heresy of a special sort — he contradicted Galen. 3 

1 Crump and Jacobs, “Legacy of the Middle Ages,” 1 926, p. 160. 

3 Thorndike, Lynn, “History of Magic and Experimental Science,” pp. 406-413. 
Bartholomaeus Anglicus cured epileptic fits by shaving the scalp, washing it 
with tepid vinegar, and covering it with the brains of a pig or cow. Also he 
adds: “Take three drops of blood from his scalp and after he recovers from 
the fit, give them to him to eat with a crow’s egg.” 

3 DeMondeville, a friend of Lanfranc, and a great anatomist, dared also to 
contradict Galen. He is the author of the famous phrase, “God did not ex- 
haust all his creative power in making Galen.” This was a propos of his 
theorv that wounds might be healed without pus, whereas for a thousand 
years Galen's “laudable pus” had been accepted by all except the Salernitans. 


He honestly believed that astronomy was the only valuable study for a 
physician, that the Lord had created seven herbs, corresponding to the 
seven planets, that would not only cure all diseases but would bring 
victory in war. The only trouble was to find them and prepare them 
properly. We have nevertheless to thank this same Peter of Abano for 
bringing Trotula into the light once more, along with Mesue, and cer- 
tain almost forgotten Arabic writers. His friend and contemporary, 
Simon a Cordo, is also to be thanked, this time for giving us a record 
of a thirteenth century physician’s library. In it were manuscripts of 

A Dissection in the 13TH Century 

(From Bartholomaeus Anglicus: “Proprietaire des chases .” Paris, 1510) 

Galen, Dioscorides, Democritus, Demosthenes, Oribasius, Celsus, and 
Moschion, Alexander’s Secrets, and the works of a few of the Salernitans 
and the Arabians. 

Among the Spaniards who wrote medical books were three men 
who admitted an indebtedness to medical women : Arnald of Villanova, 
a town near Valencia ( 1234-131 1 ) ; Petrus Hispanus who in 1276 
became Pope John XXI (died 1277) ; and Raymond Lull. To Arnald, 
as has already been mentioned, it is thought that we owe the first long 



version of the “Regimen Salernitntum" in rhyme. Arnold could read 
Greek, Hebrew and Arabic, as well as the modern languages. He studied 
medicine in Montpellier, and taught there. We have a picture of him as 
a lecturer, sitting on a low stool in a garden surrounded by both men and 
women pupils, none of them young or frivolous looking. He tells us that 
he learned many of his remedies from medical women. There was one in 
Rome, he said, who cured sore throat with a remarkable plaster of her 
own composition, another in Montpellier who cured a man or serious 
hemorrhage by a secret remedy, and another who cured a case of small- 
pox by wrapping the patient in a red cloth — apparently the first reference 
to the theory that there is healing in color. Arnald also said that he 
had learned from women how to gather herbs at the proper time, gen- 
erally at certain phases of the moon, and the value of certain charms and 
magic stones. Arnald was anathematized after his death, but being 
during his life physician to several kings, he was not before disturbed. 
He endeavored to link the seven great metals to the seven great planets 
and the seven organs of the body, as was attempted a century previously 
bv the abbess Herrade of Landsberg, and, along with astrology and 
alchemy, believed in all sorts of magic. He is said to have cured Pope 
Boniface VIII of hernia by a charmed ring — supplemented, however, 
with medicine and a truss! 

Raymond Lull, 1 235-13 1 5, the “Enlightened Doctor” of Spain, 
during his peaceful penetration of North Africa as a missionary preached 
both religion and medicine to the men and women who gathered about 
him. He was born on the island of Majorca in 1235. He tried to 
invent some method by which all questions could be answered with 
mathematical precision, and hunted for liquid gold as a universal elixir, 
and for the philosopher’s stone. 

Peter of Spain ( 1220-1277) was the son of a Portuguese physician, 
educated at the University of Paris. He became a " M agister," and was 
appointed professor of medicine at the new university in Siena. Still 
later he was physician to the Pope, who raised him to the position of 
archiator, or head, of the department of health in Rome. \ hen he be- 
came archbishop of Lisbon, and eventually himself Pope, John XXL 
lu the meantime he had written an important book on the diseases of 
the eve, and a famous 'Thesaurus Pauperum’’ or “ 1 reasury for the 
Poor.” This latter book was a veritable multum in parvo, a little 
encylopedia 1 of medicine which was used by students for centuries 

1 The contents and style of the “Thesaurus" may be judged by the following 
sample headings: “Contra lo male di matrice" ; “A provare lo tempe delle 
donne" ; "Contra la difficultd del parturire" ; “ Contra lo cancro"', “Contra la 
lepra," etc. 



because of its simplicity and brevity. Peter of Spain mentions many 
ancient medical authorities by name, and makes five references to Trotula 
and the other medical women of Salerno. He was acquainted with 
Dante, who admired him to such an extent that he gave him a place in 

Paradise, “ ” him of Spain, Who through twelve volumes full of 

light descants.” 1 

Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), a Suabian German monk, whose 
work was done at the university of Cologne, was a wonder of erudition 
for the thirteenth century. He was the discoverer of the nervous system 
in plants, the forerunner of modern psychologists, and a believer in the 
transmutation of metals— -which, curiously, modern science is just now 
making possible, thanks to the pioneer researches of Madame Curie and 
her husband. His motto was “Experimentum solum certificat in 
talibus” ; and he was the author of no less than sixty-six books, among 
them the popular “De Secretis Mulierum ,” 2 which, because of its con- 
tents, was soon placed on the “Index Expur gatorius.” This book contains 
a frank discussion of the questions of sex, rules for the prevention of 
conception, together with methods of foretelling the sex of children, the 
reasons for twin-pregnancies, the effect of the stars, sun and sky on 
children, etc. Albertus believed in the higher education of women, 
reasoning that the Virgin Mary must have known the Seven Liberal 
Arts, and that she was an example to all women. Albertus died insane 
at the age of eighty-seven. 

Of Michael Scot (1175-1235) it may be said, though born in 
Scotland and spending most of his life there, he was a thorough cosmo- 
politan. He was a wizard, an astrologer, a philosopher, a collector of 
books on history, and an imaginative recorder of whatever he found to 
record. In his book on Physiognomy 3 he drew largely from Aristotle, 
as was the fashion, and he also borrowed animal tales from the Arabs, 
and the explanation of generation and birth, signs and dreams, from 
apochryphal Greek sources. His book on medicines and the diseases of 
children he took from Rhazes, writing in “easy Latin,” chapters on 
generation, mothers’ milk, and the signs of hot and cold complexions. 

1 Paradiso, Canto XII, 134-5. The book to which Dante refers is not the 
medical book, but one which he wrote on logic, which is in twelve volumes or 

2 Garrison (ed. 1914, p. Ill), says that Albertus Magnus, being a Dominican, 
was not allowed to write on the practice of medicine, and that therefore this 
work was written probably by a pupil of his, perhaps Henry of Saxony. 

s “Liber physiognomioe magistri Michaelis Scoti,” printed in Basle in 1485, and 
perhaps also by Aldus in 1490. 



He translated for his royal master (he was court physician to Frederick 
II) nineteen books from the Arabic dealing with signs and the interpre- 
tation of dreams, believing that they often indicated the proper medicine 
to use in the treatment of a disease. 

In another of his volumes he taught the midwives a good 
many queer things about gynecology, such as that, if a woman is born 
under seven planets, she will have seven babies at one birth, and that if, 
when she discovers her pregnancy, she extends her right hand first, the 
baby will be a boy, etc. etc. He believed that many diseases could be 
cured by a mixture of sorcery and menstrual blood or semen ; and among 
his remedies we find the urine of a boy and the blood of an owl. He 
drew for his readers a picture of a human body marked with the proper 
places for bleeding according to the signs of the zodiac. He thought that 
a baby born in the eighth month was inevitably ‘‘under the wrong stars” 
and would not live — a theory occasionally heard even today. 1 * Osier 
humorously said that Scot’s psycholog}' merely antedated Freud, while 
Dante was for punishing him in Hell for his heresies and magic. This 
seems to have been the first midwifery book written by any man for 

QuelValtro, rhe ne’fianchi d cosi poco, 

Michele Scolto fu che ceramenle 

Delle rnagiche frode seppe il gioco. ! 

Among French medical writers of the thirteenth century were the 
encyclopedists, Thomas of Cantimpre and Vincent of Beauvais. We are 
particularly interested in Thomas because, for his own daughter, he 
copied Cleopatra’s gynecology. Some of the experiences he describes 
have no counterpart except “Alice in Wonderland.” The work of 
Vincent of Beauvais was even more prodigious. Between 1240 and 
1264 he compiled the “Imago Mundi,” largely from twelve hundred 
manuscripts in the library of Saint Louis, for the copying of which he 
employed four hundred and fifty writers. His great “Speculum Majus” 
finally comprised no less than eighty books, and nearly ten thousand 
chapters. 3 

1 Sarton says that the only medical hook positively known to have been written 
bv Scot was the “Physioiurmia," also called "Liber physiognomine,” which, how- 

ever, contains a treatise, “Do minis." Sarton, op. cit., vol. II, part II, p. 580. 
1 Inferno, Canto XX, 115-117. 

3 See article in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, also Lynn Thorndike’s and Sing- 
er’s works on “Magic and Science,” and Haskins’ “Michael Scot in Spain,” Isis, 
no. 15, p. 406. 



JN looking through the books written by medical men in the thirteenth 
century we are struck with the fact that their remedies were generally 
used only because of some supposedly inherent “hot” or “cold,” “moist” 
or “dry” effect. There was no study of the specific action of such drugs 
as were combined into their “shot-gun” mixtures, any more than there 
was study of the dietary effect of their foods. Peter of Abano said that 
the diet “should be rational”; but he also added that a bezoar stone 
carried in the pocket would protect a person from poison, which was — 
perhaps not without reason in those days — dreaded more than indigestion. 
For the stomach’s sake he advised an emetic once in a while, the simplest 
he suggested being a cup of hot butter in water, the butter presumably 

The common drugs in this century were aloes, amber, aristolochia, 
clematis, aurum (gold) — if the patient could afford it — calamint, camo- 
mile, camphor, cantharides, carob bean, cassia, cinnamon, cabbage, celan- 
dine, crocus, cubebs, wild carrot, diacameron (containing both gold and 
silver), musk and amber (popular for asthma, weakness, and backache), 
rosemary and orris root, lead plaster, dittany, dragon-tree, wild arum, 
dodders, fennel, pistache nuts (to “comfort” the stomach), sour grass, 
cherry laurel and fumitory juice (for melancholia), hellebore (for fumi- 
gation and for use as an emetic), colchicum (for gout), elecampane, 
pomegranates, prunes, five kinds of oils (including soft soap, and oil from 
squills), lemons, petroleum (“which was black and had a vile odor”), 
origanum and wild marjoram, pearls (to be melted and rubbed into spots 
of leprosy), portulaca, pyrethrum, radish, rhubarb, elder, sandal-wood 
and sandal oil, senna from Arabia, terra sigillata (made famous by 
Galen), theriac (already mentioned, with its scores of ingredients), and 
valerian (for the nerves). And of course many other herbs or minerals 
were occasionally mentioned. 

In southern Italy asphodel, which grows in such profusion along the 
waysides in all the southern countries that poets even in Homer’s time 
made it the subject of their sonnets, was a household remedy for the 
healing of wounds. It is a tall, lily-like plant, with little whitish, star- 
shaped flowers growing on long stems like candles on a Christmas tree. 
Its leaves droop like a broken sword and it has no odor; but, as it was 
believed that nothing was created without a purpose, the common aspho- 
del was used as a poultice, especially for sword wounds. 



From the “Golden Legend,” or " Lombard ica hysioria “ of Jacobus 
of Voragine, archbishop of Genoa (died 1298), we may catch something 
of the mystic charm of some of the old remedies of this time. He tells 
us to gather motherwort when the sun is entering Capricorn, dry it; 
make garters of the skin of a young hare, double them and sew the 

motherwort between the folds; wear the garters; no horse can keep up 
with a man on foot who wears them.” And again, “make a staff of 
hollow willow wood; at its bottom put the eyes of a wolf, the tongue 
of a dog, and its heart, three green lizards and the hearts of three 
swallows. Place them in the sun covered with saltpeter, add seven 
leaves of vervain gathered on the eve of St. John the Baptist, and the 
stones from a lapwing’s nest ; you will be protected from robbers, wild 
beasts, dogs and venomous animals, and it will find you a lodging.” 
Kipling names for us the remedies used in Old England; 

“Alexanders and Marigold, 

Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane, 

Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue, 

(Almost singing themselves thev run), 

Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you’ 

Cowslip, Melilot, Rose-of-the-sun, 

Anything green that grew out of the mould 
V as an excellent herb to our fathers of old.” 

— Kipling’s “Our Fathers of Old.” 
IMany of these herbs that he names are still used by country women today. 
M e still hear praise of dandelion as a laxative and liver tonic, of sweet 
marjoram for headache, of catnip for nerves, colchicum for gout, tansy 
for uterine inertia, and boneset tea for a fresh cold. 

It is interesting also to note that the doctors of those days had 
somehow gained the idea that the contagion of disease came from the 
air surrounding the patient; and consequently, when visiting the sick, 
they wore over the nose and mouth a handkerchief soaked in vinegar. 
Often, as a result of the same idea, the sick patient was almost smothered 
in an atmosphere of steaming juniper berries, calamus root or pine 
needles. 1 here was as yet, however, no realization of a generalized 
protection against epidemic diseases, because for almost seven hundred 
years there u r as to be no adequate theory as to their causes. 

In Scandinavia it seems to have been the custom for women doctors 
when visiting patients to carry in their bags all sorts of remedies for 
any emergency. They were supposed to stay with the patient as long 
as was necessary, and to prepare their medicines on the spot. Some curious 
ancient customs still prevailed in the North in the thirteenth century; 

Hospital Scenes, 13th Century. 

hi the first women are receiving the sick at the hospital, in the second 
caring for them m bed. (From a contemporary manuscript preserved in 
the Bibliotheque Nationale, No. 88A6.) 


such, for instance, as the pleasant one that there might be a vicarious cure 
of patients by the sacrifice of a child. The child because it was sinless, 
might, if buried alive, stay an epidemic! 

In England, according to Thorndike, the remedies of Bartholomew 
Glanville, culled out of Constantine or Dioscorides, were in demand. 
For headache, for example, the head was to be shaved, and covered with 
warm cow dung, or the patient’s shin bone was to be scarified to “draw 
down” the pain. For epilepsy one used a decoction of crow’s eggs and 
three hairs from the head of the patient. For leprosy the belly of a 
snake, rubbed with garlic and cooked in wine, was to be applied to the 
patient’s sores. 

The remedies of Michael Scot, on the other hand, were chiefly 
those of Salerno. One of his pills contained a dozen ingredients; but, 
when compounded, it was good for the plague, stomach ache, abscess of 
the ear, or for sunstroke. Steele 1 tells us that one of Roger Bacon’s 
remedies, taken from the “ Secretmn Secretorum,” was supposed to have 
been written by Aristotle for his pupil Alexander. Into a syrup of fruit 
juices and honey a decoction of roses and violets was stirred, with the 
addition of parsley water, sweet marjoram and bugloss, myrobalans and 
cloves. After standing twenty-four hours this mixture was boiled down 
to one-third along with musk, ambergris and aloes. This concoction 
was said to “strengthen” the heart, brain and stomach. The dose is not 
indicated. Steele also gives us what he calls a remedy involving “a grand 
orgy of expense” as a supreme panacea. It contained powdered pearls, 
rubies, sapphires and amethysts, emerald dust and finely divided gold, 
incorporated in an electuary in a gold pot, incensed with aloes. The 
product was then exposed to the influence of the heavens for eight days, 
being carefully guarded from exposure to the moon in her malignant 
aspects. The dose was one dram fasting, and one dram after meat. 

Peter of Spain seems to have preferred animal remedies. He pro- 
fessed to find great value in the liver of a vulture, taken piecemeal for 
nine days in succession along with the blood of the bird. To cure tooth- 
ache he used burnt human bones, or the tooth of a dead man, or dog’s 
milk and opium. To cure witchcraft or obsessions he prescribed the 
heart of a vulture worn as an amulet. He quoted many remedies from 
the women of Salerno, but he was more of an endocrinologist than they, 
being much given to prescribing the sex organs of various animals as a 

1 Steele, Robert, “A Mediaeval Panacea,” Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. Section of the 
History of Medicine, 1917, 10, 93. 



sort of elixir of life. Like his somewhat younger contemporary, Peter 
of Abano, he delighted in asking questions not answerable in the 
thirteenth century: Is bad food more injurious than bad air? 

Should the diet of a brain worker equal that of a muscle worker? Why 
is man less hairy than the brutes? Are medicines always given by con- 
traries? Does our blood nourish us? Is water of more aid than wine 
in assimilating foods? Why is the white of egg used for wounds? Why 
docs a small hen lay more eggs than a large one? Is human milk subtler 
than asses’ milk? Why does human urine enrich vines? Should eggs 
be eaten raw? Should paralytics eat fish? Why is oil best at the top, 
honey at the bottom, and wine in the middle of the cask? 

Almost a generation later Peter of Abano continues in the same 
vein ; he asks, for example, if the power of the mind could make a camel 
enter a Turkish bath, why eggs are beneficial in fevers, if paralysis of 
the right side is always harder to cure than of the left side, if milk always 
agrees with consumptives, if blood-letting from the left arm will cure 
gout of the left foot, and why the bite of a fasting man is poisonous . 1 It 
has taken six hundred years to answer some of these questions. 


JP ERHAPS the most nearly universal panacea of the thirteenth century 
was bleeding. Doctors, midwives, barbers and surgeons all bled, 
according to the moon, the calendar, and the signs of the zodiac, and no 
matter what the disease or the condition of the patient . 2 To mingle one’s 
blood with that of a friend, as did Duguesclin and Oliver, was a sign of 
the fulfilment of a pact. A man who found fault with his wife called a 
barber to bleed her to bring her to terms. In the homes and convents 
and hospitals bleeding was regularly done two or more times a year, but 
not to the extent that it was done in the sixteenth century. There was a 
belief that the body of an adult contained twenty-four pounds of blood, 
of which a man could always profitably lose twenty at once, the argument 
being based on the analog)' that the more milk a nursing mother gives a 
baby the more she has. The theory of bleeding in fever was that by 
bleeding the bad blood would escape and only the good remain. 

In the early manuscripts 3 we find more women than men pictured 

1 Thorndike, “Magic and Experimental Science,” vol. II, p. 887. 

- Franklin, Alfred, "La T r ie Privie d-’outrefois, du XITe an XVIIIe sitcle, 1893. 

: Richer, Paul, “L’Art et la 41 /‘(Urine,’’ p. 479 et »eq. 



as treating patients by bleeding and cupping and cautery. 1 2 Occasionally 
there appears to be a dignified surgeon, wearing a full beard and long 
robe, sitting at a table as if he were the ultimate authority, but the 
majority of attendants in the room are women. 

SudhofP gives many pictures of men and women being treated. In 
many cases the operator seems to be a woman, wearing a hooded white 
gown or a handkerchief knotted over her hair, a white skirt and a long 
mantle. In one picture a woman holds a cauterizing tool in her right 
hand while the left is held up with warning gesture. She purports to be 
ready to touch several points on the patient’s abdomen to cure him of 
dropsy. In another picture in an old manuscript is a boy blowing the 
bellows to make the fire blaze to heat the cautery. In another a woman 
patient is lying on a couch while an attendant uses two large hot pokers 
on her naked body. In another, a man, semi-nude, exhibits his back, 
marked by a long, burnt streak; and another man displays many small 
blisters on his face, put there to cure headache. 

Both nurses and monks are shown in these illustrations, bandaging 
broken bones, removing polypi from the nose, burning hemorrhoids, hook- 
ing out teeth, and operating on eyes. In an early manuscript 3 of Roger 
of Salerno, the operator is wearing a short gown and a tight cap like the 
garments prescribed for barbers at St. Cosmas. In a few instances a 
turbaned Arab, or a man with Jewish features and a skull cap, is operat- 
ing. In an Oxford manuscript a bearded and capless doctor prepares, 
with wild gestures, to bleed a meek patient, who is standing before him 
holding a bowl to receive his own blood. In pictures of bath scenes 
women are officiating with cups and towels, or giving a steam treatment. 

Thus we see that the thirteenth century differed little from the 
twelfth as regards the study and practice of medicine by women, but 
again we notice indications that these women were not as progressive 
and attentive in their diagnosis of disease and treatment of patients, 
as formerly. In obstetric work, the thirteenth century lagged markedly 
behind. The Church held firmly to the conviction that the relics of 
the saints and prayer could cure whatever the Lord wished to have cured. 
” Plus valet Christus quam Hippocrates et Galenas.” As a result the 
list of queens and noble women who died in childbed is a long one. The 
wife of Frederick II, the great emperor, and the sister of Henry III of 

1 Giacosa, Piero, “Magistri Salernitcini nondum editi,” with Atlas. 1901. 

2 Suclhoff, Karl, “Beitrage sur Geschichte der Chirurgie im Mittelaller,” 1914. 

3 Handerson, H. E., (Baas) ‘‘The School of Salernum,” 1889. Also Gurlt’s 
“Geschichte der Chirurgie,” 1898, and Malgaigne’s “Histoire de Chirurgie 1640. 



England, both died because of timidity on the part of their midwives 
to perform version of the unborn baby, although the process had been 
well taught by Cleopatra in the first century, and again by Trotula in 
the eleventh. Indeed, midwives of the thirteenth century were advised 
to wait until the mother was dead, and then to remove the infant by 
Caesarian section, hoping at least to save its life. Relics of saints availed 
l.ttle against distocia of the pelvis; but fortunately most labors were 
normal, and required no unusual midwifery. Mothers, if poor, were 
expected to nurse their babies, but not if rich. As soon as infants ’of the 
nobility were born, they were bathed and baptized; their horoscopes were 
taken; and they were carried off by a wet-nurse. The lying-in room 
m the meantime, had been well filled with relatives and friends, nurses 
and mid wives, and even by men of the court if there had been, or might 
be, any question of paternity, all of whom had watched the progress of the 
labor with curiosity or sympathy or encouragement. Among the lower 
classes, however, obstetrics was even more crude than a thousand years 
earlier, and puerperal fever was expected on or before the third day. 


J N the thirteenth century printing was still in the future. What books 
existed were still in manuscript, laboriously copied. Parchment was 
costly, papyrus very rare; and copying manuscripts from a strange script, 
and in a cold cell, must have been tedious work, particularly if the book 
being copied was not the Bible, a Breviary, or Book of Hours or other 
religious book. The copying of such books as these at least gave the 
monk or nun copying them the hope of reward in Heaven. No wonder 
that some of these old scribes wrote at the end of their text, “Sweet it is 
to write the end of any book,” or “I swear by all the saints that I will 
pr,i\ for the vengeance that overtook Sodom on anyone who destroys this 

I here were, it is true, libraries in existence. But the cost of making 
manuscript books, by pen and brushwork, was appalling. Only the rich 
could buy books. The poor could not even read. This being the situa- 
tion what was more natural than that men with a mere smattering of 
knowledge should pose as educated in medicine, and should travel around 
as physicians and surgeons? Rutebeuf 1 was such a peripatetic impostor. 

1 Rutebeuf. “Le Dcx <le I'Erberie,” and De Rcnzi. op. cit., vol. II, p. 58. 



He is thus referred to: 

“Calls himself doctor, any fool, 

Jew or monk, actor, barber, witch, 

Whether alchemist or massagist, 

Or bather or falsest oculist. 

Where gold is the object 
Art and nature perish.” 

Like other troubadours Rutebeuf sang his medical tales to the tune 
of a harp. He says that impostors carried immense packs of remedies 
with them, whereas his hero did not spread his wares upon the ground 
to sell them because they were too precious. They had been gathered 
from far countries, even “from Salerno,” where, he adds, a great woman 
doctor “named Trotula” 1 had shown him how to use her pills and 
powders. And he concludes: “Take this in white wine or red, or in water, 
every morning for thirteen days, and you will he cured, no matter what 
disease you have. Medicines bitter to the mouth are good for the heart.” 
Similarly, in the “Golden Legend” of Jacob de Voragine Lucifer says: 

“You behold in me 
Only a traveling physician, 

One of the few who have a mission 
To cure incurable diseases.” 

In short the people who liked to be humbugged were in the thir- 
teenth century as numerous as at any other time, and the humbuggers 
were, if anything, a little more numerous. The main desideration seemed 
to be to offer the sufferer a remedy more nasty, or more costly, or both. 

Despite the fact that few or no women wrote books on medical 
subjects during the thirteenth century there was clearly no lack of 
women doing medical work, and doing it with common sense, devotion 
and self-sacrifice. As opportunity pushed them into public service women 
were beginning to be emancipated from the ignorance of former ages. 
Wealthy women were not only building hospitals but were devoting their 
own lives to the care of their patients. They were not ashamed of doing 
the most menial tasks if it was for the glory of God. Their religion was 
as intense and spiritual as it was practical; it was therefore in a new 
way and a new sense uplifting. These humble medical women of the 
thirteenth century were like the bits of colored glass in a cathedral 
window, each piece important but each inconspicuous. Few of them 
were playing a large role, but collectively they were handing on the torch 
to succeeding generations. 

1 Trotula of Salerno “whose bonnet covers her ears, and from beside her 
eyebrows there hang long silver chains reaching her shoulders.” This sort of 
cap decorated with jewels and pendants is worn by Moroccan Jewish brides 
today. See page 20, Franklin, op. cit. 

Chapter VI 

The Fourteenth Century 


J UST as no line of demarcation has been found to separate any of 
the earlier centuries, so the fourteenth was separated from the thir- 
teenth merely by a date on the calendar. In many ways it was both 
better and worse than its predecessors. Instead of Crusades the century 
saw a succession of wars and pestilences and tragedies. The Holy 
Sepulchre was in the possession of the Infidels, and there it stayed for 
many centuries. The age was more materialistic than those preceding, 
and, while the African desert had lost its glamour, the lure of gold 
was strong, and men were ready on the instant to go to war for private 
or royal gain. These wars were not managed with what we would 
now deem military skill. Soldiers were as a rule mercenaries, lacking 
firm control, loaded down with heavy weapons, pikes, maces, and 
stones for slings, while the leaders were almost incapable of quick 
action because of their heavy armor, battle axes, and spears. 

The West, in becoming permeated with the luxuries of the East, 
had also become suffused with its immorality. Superstition and magic 
were taking the place of real religion ; and, while the spiritual power 
of the Church was waning, the political aspirations of its popes were 
rapidly increasing. It was the century of their so-called “Babylonian 
Captivity,” when for over seventy years, between 1305 and 1377, they 
dictated the religion of the western world from their great walled city 
and fortress-like palace at Avignon in southern France. 

Medicine as a science was practically at a standstill during this 
century. Universities were in the process of foundation all over Europe, 
but the general methods of teaching medicine were prescribed by the 
Church. It is true that a few more anatomical dissections were per- 
mitted both in France and in Italy, either as autopsies in cases of sus- 
pected poisoning, or on the bodies of criminals. Hospitals were larger, 
and their architecture was more beautiful, than ever before, as the 


donors had more money with which to decorate them. T. he general 
standard of living, undoubtedly, was higher than in previous centuries, 
and probably the span of life would have been longer had it not been 
for war and pestilence. 

Women in this century outnumbered men seven to one. It has been 
estimated that almost six million men were swallowed up in the 
Crusades 1 of the thirteenth century and the wars of the fourteenth. 2 

But war took far less toll than pestilence. It has been estimated 
that as many as sixty million people, most of them the young and strong, 
died of the so-called Black Death alone, which recurred seven times 
during the century. The disease was probably the bubonic plague, being 
called the Black Death because of the hemorrhagic spots it caused on the 
body. Rivers were polluted, and rats revelled in the carnage and then 
died in the streets. The dead were buried by the cartful in pits outside 
the city walls. At Westminster, for example, the abbot and twenty- 
six monks died ; at St. Albans forty died ; everywhere the fatalities were 
enormous. In 1350 the population of London was only half what it 
had been ten years earlier, while eight years after the plague of 1349 
the city was still one-third uninhabited. 3 

There is but little confirmation of the assumption that during these 
epidemics women cared for the majority of the ill, but, for all that, the 
assumption is a reasonable one, for only churchmen of the lowest order 
were allowed to practice medicine, laymen as physicians and surgeons 
were few, and many relied on physicians who were really astrologers, 
who merely glanced at the urine of their patients, and then consulted 
the stars for prognosis. There were also the barbers, but they were 
content to be tooth pullers and bleeders. All these were alike in being 
thoroughly afraid of the plague. Even Guy de Chauliac, the most 
famous surgeon and writer of the century, ran away from Avignon 
when the plague started there; but it is recorded that he pulled himself 
together, returned, wrapped his body from head to foot in a sort of 
shroud with a face mask, and went among the people with his knife, 
lancing buboes like any ordinary quack salver. This was the only treat- 
ment that seemed to do any good. 

In 1361, and at four other times, came the pestis secunda, or pestis 
puerorum, which carried off many children. People were hardened to 

1 See article on the “Crusades,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th Edition. 

2 Vickers, Kenneth M., “England in the Later Middle Ages,” 1914, Chap. IX. 

3 Vickers, op. cit., p. 185. 



in fan t mortality, however, and Charles of Anjou is quoted as saying 
that he d,d not grieve for his son "because children multiply speedily 
and a son can be replaced, but not a father.” 

The people learned nothing about sanitation from these epidemics 
\V hen the widow ot Edward II was to be buried in Grey Friars’ 
Church, London, the streets round about had to be cleaned by the 
rak yers before the cortege could pass.’ This was in ,359. Though 
1 thy with offal, the Thames was continually used for drinking water 
despite laws forbidding the practice. The homes of the poor were 
much overcrowded. As immorality increased, pilgrimages to holy 
tombs became mere revels; funerals became feasts; and indecent games 
were played in every church-yard. Doctors were called murderers— 
mart her ers area many leches” says Piers Plowman. Quacks made 
money easily, though their deeds were against the law, and fines were 
heavy it they were caught. Licensed doctors were so few that patients 
gladly turned to women, who at least were ready to try to ease their pain. 

7 he teachings of Rhazes as to contagious diseases were still current. 
He listed eight: plague, phthisis, epilepsy, scabies, erysipelas, anthrax, 
leprosy, and an eye disease resembling trachoma. 2 The author of Sir 
John Mandeville’s travels, John of Burgundy, who was a physician of 
Liege, wrote a tract in 1365 which sought not so much to describe the 
symptomatology of the great epidemics as to discuss their causes, pre- 
vention, and treatment. He found the stars and corrupt air to blame 
for the Black Death; although Jacob Grimm 3 is authority for the 
statement that between 1324 and 1349 Bovarius had collected facts in 
Berne to prove that all epidemics were caused by insects, flies, spiders, 
etc. 1 he latter theory failed to convince the university teachers of its 
probability, even though it had been hinted long centuries earlier in 
Ae>op Fables. Nobody followed up the suggestion, or made any ex- 
periments to prove or disapprove it. Sir John said that the epidemic 
of 1348 on the Continent had carried off 8,000 legions of soldiers, be- 
sides peaceful Christians, Saracens, and Jews. For the prevention of 
contagion he advised staying in the house with the windows closed to 
keep out the corrupt air, and the continuous burning of juniper 
on the hearth until all the cases had been cured, or had died and been 

1 Vickers, op. eit., p. 18k 

' F ” r description of these epidemics, sec Baas, J. H., “Grundriss der 
' • ' I'hxrhtf. der Medina,” 1878, n. gif). 

3 Grimm, Jacob, “Kleinere Schriften,’’ 1871, p. 100. 


buried. He said also that everybody should keep his hands clean and 
frequently dip them in rose-water or vinegar, but that baths should not 
be taken for fear of opening the pores of the skin. In diet he recom- 
mended the avoidance of fruits and honey, but he believed that every 
other kind of food in moderation was harmless. Sleep should be insisted 
upon after a hearty meal. Blood should be “let” once a month. If 
despite these measures of prevention plague should attack, its treatment 
should be by teas of dictamnus, scabious, roses, and violets, together 
with the lancing of all abscesses. 

Among other contagious diseases, erysipelas was very common in 
the fourteenth century, as were gangrene, due to a fungus (ergot of rye) 
in bread, and leprosy. These were often mistaken, one for another. 
Smallpox and measles were so endemic as to be seldom mentioned. 
There were also terrible epidemics of sweating sickness, which carried 
off thousands of victims in wild delirium, and a dancing mania allied 
to the St. Vitus’ dance of the preceding century, which sent people 
gyrating through the streets half naked until they dropped from sheer 
exhaustion. Besides all these diseased men, women, and children, there 
were at large hundreds of maniacs who were supposed to be in league 
with the devil. Many of these were bound to stakes and tortured, if 
not killed, in order to exorcise their demon. 

Perhaps the only lasting good outcome of all this misery was the 
quarantine system, which was instituted at many ports to prevent the 
transmission inland of the diseases brought from other ports. Ragusa, 
on the coast of the Adriatic, is said to have been the first port to be 
thus quarantined. This was in 1370. Venice and Marseilles soon 
followed. Even so the plague was carried to Great Britain, and to 
the shores of Scandinavia and the Baltic. 1 

Garrison, 2 points out that, though ignorance of medicine and sani- 
tation was no more general than before the Crusades, the ostracizing of 
the Jews and other restrictions severely handicapped medical progress. 
Surgery was “at a lower level than among the Greeks at the time of the 
Trojan war,” operations being mainly in the hands of barbers, quacks, 
and ivomen who had had no university education. In 1368, however, 
the surgeons of England formed a Guild. Thereafter barbers were per- 
mitted only to pull teeth, give enemas, bleed, and shave. Baas 3 tells us 

1 Sigrid Undset in the Nobel prize romance, “Kristin Lavransdatter,” has 
given us a good description of the plague as it raged in Norway in the late 
Middle Ages. 

2 Ed. 1914, op. cit., p. 113. 

3 Op. cit., p. 270. 



that it was in this century that the cupping basin became the official sign 
of barbers, while the sign of physicians was either a white handkerchief, 
a coat of arms, or a parrot on a gold ground. Gradually, however, the 
Church was obliged to concede more and more liberty to the medical 
profession, and to foster the practice of medicine as well as surgery by 
the laity. 


J N the fourteenth century the peasants began vigorously to demand 
more freedom and more comforts. Intellectual work was decreased. 
The clergy had become lazy and overfed. The majority of men and 
women could neither read nor write, although among the literate 
minority more women than men seem to have been able to read in their 
own languages. For such women many lay books and prayer books were 
translated, while for rich and well educated women manuscripts in 
Latin were beautifully copied and decorated. Few men read medical 
or religious books in their original languages, and still fewer medical 
writers signed their books or translations. After several men or women 
had worked over the same manuscript there was likely to be little left 
of the original material. The monastic leaders in education were dis- 
couraged by their bishops from “buying or fabricating books,” for as one 
old monk said, “No one should serve books or Mammon.” It was at 
about the middle of this century when the abbot of St. Albans sold his 
own thirty-two books for fifty pounds. After the Black Death of 1349, 
some of the English schools were opened to girls, who learned there 
how to read and write, as well as to embroider, weave, and spin. In 
Florence, girls studied Italian along with commercial subjects. 

Even at that time, France dictated the styles of women’s clothing. 
The costumes of rich men, as well as of their families, were becoming 
even more elaborate than before. Miss Bateson 1 tells us that French 
women wore gorgeous robes, but that men were their dressmakers. 

Moreover, in France, wealthy people of the nobility and merchant 
classes wore imported silks and gauzy tissues from Italy, gold and silver 
embroideries from Lucca, and wools from Flanders. In Italy both 
men and women chose to trim their clothes with furs from Scandinavia 
and to buy Tyrian dyes and jewels from the Far East. In England so 
popular was Flemish cloth that its importation was almost prohibited 
by governmental taxation. 

1 Bateson, Mary, “Mediaeval England,” 1904, pp. 295 et seq. 



A Sick Bed Scene, 14TH Century 

(A woman doctor reads from Galen, while monks exhort the patient and 
examine the urine. A nurse brings food. From, a 
drawing by Israel Von Mencken, 1489.) 



Instead of warm, loose robes, i the women began to wear tight- 
ly fitting garments, cut very decollete. They had caps with high 
horns from which flowed a veil, their skirts were clinging, but trailed 
m the dust. Girls wore their hair in two long plaits before their 
marriage, and dressed more simply than their mothers. Men vied 
with one another in wearing elaborate garments, and by 1389 they 
belted their waists, had their under-jackets embroidered, wore gay col- 
ored stockings below their knee-breeches, and bright velvet caps, long- 
toed shoes and loose gloves. Christine de Pisan tells us that in Paris 
the archbishop thundered against such display by the men, and against 
women who painted their faces and wore false hair. 2 

From Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” and from the “Vision of 
iers Plowman,” and other contemporary writings in English, as well 
as from Froissart and Petrarch and Boccaccio, we may gather, directly 
or indirectly, the threads with which to weave a tapestried picture of 
the home life of the fourteenth century, without which as a background 
we can not visualize its life and occupations. Manly, 3 for example, in 
is notes on the Canterbury Tales,” tells us many interesting facts 
about home life in Chaucer’s England. Village houses were generally by the man of the family with the help of his children and 
neighbors. Richer citizens in the large cities had frame houses, while 
the nobility and extravagantly rich merchants had stone houses or 
castles. Bricks were used little, if at all. London, which was then 
a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, at the time of the Black 
Death, in 1349, boasted forty thousand inhabitants, grouped mainly 
around St. Paul’s Church, the spire of which, more than five hundred 
feet high, towered far above that of other churches. 

The average house in London had two or more stories, the upper 
overhanging the lower, so that from the unglazed windows of the top 
stories slops could conveniently be thrown into the street below, which 
naturally became littered with all sorts of festering garbage and sewage, 
mixed with the carcasses of dead dogs and filthy straw from the great 
halls, so that the whole reeked with vermin and ordure. In the houses 
of the poor the family life was mainly spent in one room, as in earlier 
centuries. If lit at all, it was by smoking torches and by the chimney 
fire, where food was cooked. Children and dogs played on the floor, 

‘ W einhold : "Die Devtschen Frauen in ilc/n Mitlelalter,” p. 219. 

- Quoted by Abram, A.: “English Life and Manners’ in the Later Middle 
Ages,” 1913. 

Manly, J. M.: “Canterbury Tales,” 1929 Introduction, Chap. IV. 



while the mother carded and spun wool and wove the russet colored 
gowns which the family wore. From “Piers Plowman,” we learn that 
lower class families were large, and rents high, and that their food con- 
sisted mostly of coarse brown bread, cabbage, home-made ale, sometimes 
milk for porridge, and perhaps a few mussels on Fridays. They had 
little meat except at christenings, on which occasions certain delicacies 
were presented to the mother, along with eight loaves of bread and a 
little wine. 1 

Richer homes boasted silver spoons, a silver-mounted wooden bowl 
called a mazer, cups and plates of silver, glass, or wood. The diet of 
well-to-do people was much more varied than that of the poor ; meat, 
eggs, fowl, cheese, and a few vegetables were often found on their long 
“boards.” Their beds were fairly private and heavily curtained ; the 
mattresses were of straw, the coverlets of feathers or quilted silk. They 
slept without night clothes except a cap, and at the foot of the bed was 
a strongly locked chest containing their treasures. A valet slept on a 
trundle bed at his master’s feet. 

The castles in England and on the Continent were considerably 
more comfortable than those of earlier times. Fireplaces in great 
chimneys in the wall were at least better than open fires in the center 
of the hall, and there were cozy seats in the deep windows. In northern 
Italy, in the valley of Aosta, for example, the rich lived in safety in 
strong stone towers surrounded by thick walls and a moat, over which 
hung a drawbridge. Inside the tower, on the ground floor, were rooms 
for the soldiers and servants. Wide stairways led to the chapel and 
to the living rooms of the family, where there was considerable comfort 
and beauty. Still higher were bedrooms, with frescoed walls and 
massive furniture. 

In the French cities were many rich merchants, who built great 
town-houses. Paris, in 1328, before the Great Plague, had fewer than 
three hundred thousand inhabitants, and perhaps half that number after 
it. Several other cities had grown rapidly and boasted magnificent 

In Spain and Morocco even today we feel the atmosphere of the 
fourteenth century. In Toledo and Granada, in Meknes and Fez, are 
the well-preserved or restored palaces of the rich Jews and Moors of 
that day, which, like the Alhambra, have become more mellow and 
beautiful with time. In the courts of these mosques and palaces, in 

1 Gower’s Works, edited by G. C. Macaulay, 1899-1902. 



Cordova and Granada, we still see the exquisite gardens, fountains, and 
arcades of five hundred years ago, and so can visualize the life of these 
doctors and priests and merchant princes. The hospitals of the century, 
like the palaces, were more magnificent than were those of preceding 

The people of northern Europe in this century had amusements — 
hunting the stag and wild boar, pageants and simple dramas to be acted 
out-of-doors, poetry recited indoors on rainy days by professional tellers 
of tales, and various religious festivities. Great banquets 1 were served, 
the menus being adapted to the rank and wealth of the guests . 2 Receipt 
books handed down for generations gave directions for the. preparation 
of elaborate meals — at which the chef sat with the guests, bearing a 
large w r ooden spoon with which he tasted each course as it appeared 
to prove it did not contain poison. At his belt hung the keys to his 
spice boxes, more precious than gold. 

Froissart tells us that even when the people were sad because of 
wars and pestilences they applauded the tournaments lustily, had elabo- 
rate weddings lasting a week or more, and made spectacular shows of 
funerals. “All hearts were glad in April and May, when the meadows 
and pastures became green.” Pictures of out-door life in the “Brevi- 
aries,” “Books of Hours,” and “Romances,” show us gardens of delight, 
where men and women in gay clothing danced and sat on the turf 
eating picnic luncheons, or amused themselves by acting scenes from 
ancient writers. 

Women of the lower classes were mere pawns in the marriage 
market, but even rich girls had little, if any, freedom to choose their 
life partners. Squires and knights sought youth and beauty, but even 
with these qualities there had also to be a suitable dowry. 

In a little Book of Hours, Tres Riches Heures, written for John, 
Duke of Berry, is a picture which we may suppose to be typical of the 
period. Two such women sit spinning in an open doorway. They 
have bonnets on their heads, and their petticoats are drawn above their 
knees in order to warm their legs and feet at an open fire. They 
are evidently gossiping, watching the sheep and bees, while a man in 
the near distance chops down a tree. It is a homely scene and not an 
unhappy one. 

1 “Le Viandier De TrniUement” (1326-1395) ed. I.e Baron Jerome Piehon et 
Georges Yicaire. 

2 Mead, William Edward: “The English Medieval Feast,” 1931. 



Another picture shows an interior of a house which is a veritable 
clinic where women are the doctors. One of these women is examining 
the head of a man, perhaps for ringworm or pediculi, another woman 
looks at a flask of urine brought by a servant. Other patients seem 
to be playing cards while waiting their turn for treatment. Privacy 1 
was evidently no object to the patients, any more than to the 
bathers in the medicinal pools of this century. Cupping glasses and 
bleeding pans have their places on the walls of the room along with 
suits of armor, cross-bows, helmets, a powder horn, stirrups, and 
a drum. 

Literature was reviving. Chaucer and Gower, and the author of 
“Piers Plowman,” wrote tales and poems of various types; Froissart 
wrote history; Petrarch wrote platonic sonnets to his Laura; Boccaccio 
set an example to Chaucer in composing tales to be read aloud in winter 
evenings. There were also some women writing religious and poetic 
essays. Juliana of Norwich wrote her “XVI Revelations ol Divine 
Love” before 1400. It was not much later that Dame Juliana 
Berners composed a treatise on hunting for the “Book of St. Albans,” 
and perhaps it may also have been a woman who wrote the “Nut Brown 
Maid.” 2 

The position of women has been called the test by which the 
civilization of a country or an age may be judged. Their position in 
law is one thing, their position in everyday life is another. From the 
diaries of the women of the Medici family in Florence and those of the 
Paston family in England, as well as from the instructions of the 
Menagier of Paris, 3 written for his child-wife, we see how busy and 
important were the women of the household on any large estate in the 
fourteenth century. They had the oversight of all the expenses, the 
care of the servants, sick or well, the selling of the farm produce, the 
weaving as well as shearing of the wool, and the making of the family 
wardrobe. Miss Power 4 says that it was because there were so many 
more women than men that girls had to be trained to conduct the busi- 
ness of the estates. 

1 Carbonelli, E., and Ravasini, R.: “Commenti sopra alcune miniature e 
pitture Italiane a soggetto medico nei sec. XIV e XV,” 1918. 

2 Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th ed., vol. 8, p. 572. 

3 The Menagier of Paris wrote this hook for his fifteen-year-old wife in 
1392-1394. The Medici letters were commenced at the end of the fourteenth 
century, the Paston letters early in the fifteenth. 

4 Power, Eileen, “Mediaeval English Nunneries,” 1922. 




T URNING now to the great writers of the fourteenth century, and 
their description of the medical life of the women of their own 
countries, we find Chaucer (13401400) representing the English, 
Froissart (1337-1410) the French, Boccaccio ( 1 3 1 3-1 375 ) and Petrarch 
(1304-1374) the Italian and southern French, and Christine de Pisan 
(1363-1431) working women in general, but especially those in Paris. 

Chaucer gives us vivid pictures of the life of the women of his 
time in England. 1 * 3 In the “Nonnes Preestes Tale” a medical woman, 
Dame Pertelote, in the form of a hen, talks of the remedies for sick- 
ness and tells us when to find them. To her husband, Chauntecleer, the 
cock of the yard, she gives lectures on diet, personal safety, the prevention 
of sickness, and the remedies to be collected and prepared. These reme- 
dies, and her reasons for prescribing them, differ in no wise from those of 
the medical men of her day. For Chauntecleer’s melancholy, Dame 
Pertelote picks certain herbs from her garden. For his tertian fever she 
gives him a diet of worms (because he is a fowl), along with cherry- 
laurel, centaury, fumitory, and hellebore. But, like most husbands of 
the time, he scorns her advice and regrets it when it is too late. 

In the “Wyf of Bath’s Tale” we find a most interesting insight into 
the life of an educated woman of the middle classes. This remarkable 
female had had five husbands. She was proud of this fact and of her 
■own power over them. She says with mock seriousness: 

And eek, I praye, Jesu shorte hir lyves 
That nat wol be governed by hir wyves.2 

She evidently respected those who vented their anger on her, and 
beat her, although in the end they submitted to her superior wisdom. 
She was a great traveler. She went to Jerusalem three times, once to 
Santiago di Compostella in Spain, and also to Rome and Cologne to 
see the relics of the saints. She had saddled her horse and gone alone 
to fairs and funerals and weddings and miracle plays, wearing her largest 
hat and her best scarlet stockings to preserve them from moths. What 
interests us most about the Wyf of Bath is that her husband had a con- 
siderable medical library, and that whenever he had leisure or vacation 

1 “The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey' Chaucer.” Introduction, Notes and 

Glossary bv John Matthews Manly. Dame Pertelote, p. 447. 

3 Ibid, “The Wyves Tale of Bathe,” p. 308. 

Ls i wmmmrotf C*n<-.?&\C<i&e . n. 

Christine de Pisan Sitting in Her Alcove, Writing. 

(Fri.w Hnrleian MS, 44-11- Courtesy of the British Museum. 14th Cen- 


he read aloud to her in the evening. One of his volumes, Chaucer says, 


Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys — 

That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys — 

We can imagine that the Wyf of Bath, a middle-aged woman with- 
out children, had ample leisure from her weaving to visit fairs, and 
help her neighbors in sickness with her knowdedge of the treatment of 
the diseases of women, which she had found in the old volume of 
Trotula. 1 

In France, Christine de Pisan (1363-1430. writing somewhat 
later than Chaucer, described much the same conditions there as he did 
across the Channel. She was born in Venice in 1363, and died in 1431, 
the year of the death of Joan of Arc. Her father was Thomas de Pisan, 
a Bolognese physician and astrologer, already so famous in Italy that 
Charles V of France appointed him court astrologer. In 1370 he moved 
with his family to Paris, where Christine became an omniverous reader, 
spending most of her childhood in the king’s library. She studied with the 
court tutors not only the seven liberal arts, but also medicine. At the 
age of fifteen she married the secretary of the king, Etienne du Castel, 
and together they read “all the books to be found.” In 1380 the king 
died, and Thomas and Etienne lost their positions. 

Christine at once began her literary career, writing so rapidly that 
by the time she was twenty-five, although then a widow and the mother 
of three children, she was able to support not only her own family, but 
her mother’s family as well. She was a pacifist, a poet, and known in 
all educated circles of France as the one woman who dared to champion 
the cause of the freedom and independence of women. By 1405 she 
had written fifteen large wmrks and many minor ones, among them the 
"Dit de la Rose” ( 1402 ), in which she advocates the formation of what 
we would now call women’s clubs, for the collective protection of 
women and their advancement in education. She wrote several other 
books for women: Epitre au Dleu d’ Amour, La Cite des Dames ( 1407 ), 
and Le Tresor de la Che des Dames or Le Livre des Trois V ertus. 
These books have long since been translated into other languages, and 

1 Hankin, in Piers Plowman, says, “I eateli a fever that lasts a twelve month, 
until I despise the Leechcraft of our I/rrd . . . and not even the help of Dame 
Emma of Shore Ditch is of as much value as a certain charm.” The title 
“Dame” may have been used as a sign of nobility. Evidently she was a popular 



should he in the library of club women of the twentieth century because 
of the light they shed on the history of the struggle for the emancipation 
of women from mediacvalism. 

Christines books rapidly became best sellers,’ and were copied 
and recopied in beautifully illustrated manuscripts. She advocated the 
education of women: i, in law, so that they might be able to manage 
their own estates; 2, in medicine, so as to be able to heal the sick and 
perform operations when needed; 3, in the use of money, so as to carry 
on their own households thriftily and spend public funds wisely for the 
good of the poor. She especially commends the study of medicine to 
girls, so that they may be able to care for the sick women and children 
of their communities, because (as translated into contemporaneous Eng- 
lish) “there be maledyes conceyled by a patient with owtyn shewing her 
dysese to a man.” * 1 

It is interesting to see how seriously Christine regarded her work. 
When she read the then popular “Romance of the Rose” she wept be- 
cause all the women in it seemed “so foul and useless.” She prayed 
earnestly to be changed into a man ; but God answered her prayer by 
showing her in a dream a city of women in which all lived happily and 
ruled “by reason, righteousness, and justice.” 

Many manuscripts of the works of Christine exist, several with 
beautiful illustrations, in the British Museum. One of these, Harleian, 
4431, on vellum, shows us pictures of Christine presenting one of her 
books to the queen, 2 and another to the king. 

In another illustration a woman doctor sits by the bedside of a 
patient who is asleep in a semi-upright position against a high bolster. 
The doctor wears a tight hood and scarf, and a pink robe. The patient 
wears a nun’s cap in her bed, which is partly hidden by white draperies. 

I he floor has a green carpet. 

Although Christine de Pisan had urged women to educate them- 
selves to take a more dominant position, we read of the Knight of the 
Tour Landry commanding his daughters to be submissive to their 

1 Crunrp and Jacobs, op. cit. p. 421. 

’ Christine, clad in a long blue gown and wearing a very high, horned hat, 
kneels before Hie queen, whose head is crowned with a flowery but flatter 
horned cap, and whose gown of red and doth of gold is trimmed with ermine 
hour noble women and a nun look on admiringly. 'Hie lay women have blonde 
bnir and caps like that of the queen. They wear green embroidered gowns. 

1 he nun wears a brown gown and seems to be watching the little dog gnawing 

a bone. The room is walled with blue cloth on which is painted golden 
Jleur cle lit. A canopied bed nearby is draped with red curtains. 

Christine de Pisan Presents Her Book to the Queen. 

14th Century. 


husbands, and cheerfully to endure corporal punishment, which the Wyf 
of Bath also upheld as necessary on occasion. In the fourteenth century 
marriage was always a matter of family concern, and was often arranged 
in babyhood. The age of consent was seven years for a girl, who was 
marriageable at the age of twelve to a boy of fourteen. 1 

Not long after the time of Christine Margaret Paston gave her 
daughter of twenty to a deformed man of fifty; and she tells us that 
she had to beat her daughter several times a week to make her submit 
to this marriage. Berdan says that girls were often sent in childhood 
to the homes of their future husbands to receive their education, as we 
have seen was the case of St. Elizabeth. Divorces were uncommon 
and difficult to obtain, but death in child-bearing was the common lot 
of women. 

Petrarch (1304-1374) took up the cudgels against the absurd 
medicine of his time. He denounced the illogical treatment of disease 
as he saw it at Avignon during the great visitation of the plague in 
which his Laura died in 1348. He poured out invectives against the 
doctors and their pompous airs, their gorgeous clothes which hid their 
lack of knowledge, their ignorance of pathology and their pretensions 
to wisdom. Petrarch’s love for Laura seems to have been purely pla- 
tonic, for she was already married to Hugues de Sade, and became the 
mother of his eleven children. After her death Petrarch was crowmed 
with laurel in Rome in 1341 for his immortal sonnets to her. Later 
he lived in France at Vaucluse, near Avignon, and in northern Italy 
at Arqua, where he died. 

Boccaccio (13 13-1375) wrote the hundred stories of the Decameron 
before 1353, although it was four hundred years before they were col- 
lected and printed together. In the Decameron a party of young ladies 
and gay young men, fleeing from the city to a country estate to escape 
the Black Death, entertain one another for ten days by telling stories. 2 
This was also the literary device used by Sercambi of Lucca, the heroes 
of whose Novell e fled from the plague in his town, in 1374. Chaucer’s 
twenty-nine or thirty characters spent about four days on their journey, 
instead of the longer period of Boccaccio’s story-telling party. As a 
whole, the works, both of Chaucer and of Boccaccio, give a vivid picture 
of the manner of living of their time, but for medicine we must read 
somewhat between the lines. 

1 Abrams, op. eit., p. 114. 
8 Manly, op. eit., p. 75. 

26 o 



T HERE were, in the fourteenth century, thirty-two chartered uni- 
versities in Europe. 1 Of these, Oxford and Cambridge, Paris, 
Montpellier, and Bologna were the oldest, while those of Avignon, Rome, 
Florence, Vienna, and Heidelberg were quite young. The medical 
school of St. Cosmos in Paris, and those of the Italian universities, ad- 
mitted laymen, but only those of Italy admitted women as students. 
Peripatetic teachers gathered from preference at Paris, where life was 
always more or less exciting. This was a source of satisfaction to the 
king, Charles V, because he was a chronic and psychopathic invalid, and 
delighted in a constant change of doctors. At one time a certain George 
of Prague cured him “by opening a vein in his arm” when he was 
morbid because his hair and nails had fallen out. At another time, 
when offerings, candles, and wax images of the king had been presented 
in vain at the shrine of St. Aquaire, William de Harseley, a friend of 
the Sire de Coucy, cured him of insanity due to a fright. 

Charles V was a friend to surgeons as well as to doctors. In 1371 
he confirmed the independence of barbers as distinct from surgeons; and 
this separation lasted in France until 1793. Charles V, moreover, per- 
mitted the anatomical dissection of the bodies of two criminals each 
tear at the university, a great step in advance of the teaching of medicine 
and surgery in France a century earlier. 2 

New ideas were obviously lacking, and even in 1395 the medical 
libraries of all Paris contained only twelve volumes of a strictly medical 
character. One of these precious books, that of Rhazes, was so rare 
that the king himself had difficulty in borrowing it to be copied. Osier, 
("Incunabula Medico”) tells us that the printed edition of Rhazes, the 
” Continens,” fills thirty volumes, and weighs twenty-one and a half 
pounds. We wonder how many men and how many years it would have 
taken to copy this work and the various commentaries on it. Celsus, 
Pliny, and Aristotle were the other authors most studied at Paris. 

At Oxford in 1400 New College possessed the following medical 

1 Power, Sir D’arcy, Introduction to the “Treatise on Fistula in Ano,” by 
John Arderne, 1 9 1 1. 

Garrison, Introduction to the “History of Medicine,” ed. 1914, p. 108, says, 
however, that public dissections were allowed in Montpellier in 1866; Venice, 
1368; Paris, 1478; etc. 


books: two copies of Galen, one each of Rhazes, Averroes, Hippocrates, 
Gilbert, Avicenna, Bernard Gordon, and Dioscorides, the " Rosa Angli- 
ca” of John of Gaddesden, and the " Esculapii de Morborum Originc 
liber” bound up with “Trotula curandarum aegritudinum mulierum 

Chaucer’s own library of sixty books was a large one for his time 
(1340-1400). His Clerk owned twenty volumes, including a copy of 
Aristotle. It must be remembered that a book then must have cost as 
much as a house in town, since a scribe could copy only about 3,300 
words in a day. Chaucer’s “Doctour of Phisik” also had a good library 
for “He was a verray parfit practisour” (Prologue, line 422). And 
Chaucer adds: 

Wei knew he the olde Eseulapius, 

And Deyoscorides, and eke Rufus, 

Olde Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen, 

Serapion, Razis, and Avycen, 

Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn, 

Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.i 

The Doctour was also grounded in astronomy, i. e. astrology; and, says 
Chaucer, “therefore he knew the cause of every maladye,” and so “he 
gaf the syke man his cure.” 

Despite the paucity of real medical education there was considerable 
agitation on the subject. Under Frederick II in Italy, laws had been 
passed as early as 1224 restricting the practice of medicine to those 
who had passed certain examinations, and in 1365 Joanna of Naples, 
the Queen, confirmed these edicts. It was not until 1352 that the 
French universities took up this matter seriously, when they made laws 
against the practice of medicine by other than university students who 
had received diplomas or permits. The term ’’doctor,” meaning phy- 
sician, was not used in Paris before 1413 (cf. Nicaise, op. cit., p. LIX). 
While the terms physicus and jnedicus were correct for medical men, 
the most popular names for a man doctor were mire, ni'ege, or rnege ; for 
a medical woman, megesse or miresse. The term Physicus seems to have 
denoted one who was proficient in Aristotle’s physical sciences. 

Some of the women who actually were employed officially as phy- 
sicians or obstetricians were really appointed as sanitary experts or gyne- 
cological detectives to examine lewd women for signs of pregnancy. On 
the other hand, other women, who had studied “somewhat” of medicine, 
were refused a license, and punished if caught practicing for money, 

1 Manly, John Matthews, Prologue, II, 429-434, p. 160. 



being listed as "mulieres . . . ignari scientiae medicinae.” Wandering 
doctors were also refused permits to practice. Persons who had not 
been recently confessed were not allowed to have a visit from any phy- 
sician, though a barber was allowed to administer an enema or prescribe 
a laxative for such a patient. 1 

In this dark period of medicine it is small wonder that epidemics 
raged. The apothecary shops were still filled with the most repulsive 
remedies. When inflamed eyes were treated with lotions of bile and 
the urine of infants, and deafness, lameness, and chronic skin diseases 
were treated according to the conjunctions of the planets, or not treated 
at all, it is no wonder that quacks plied a thrifty trade. Impostors and 
quacks were liable to heavy fines. They were also forced to ride 
through the town on horseback facing backwards, with a parchment, 
and a millstone or whetstone and a urinal, hanging from their necks. 
The parchment signified that the rider was too ignorant to write the 
magic words of Greek which were necessary to cure the disease he was 
attempting to treat. 

As in previous centuries, the clergy were not allowed to treat certain 
kinds of diseases, nor to let blood, nor to receive money for their visits 
unless they gave it immediately to the church. A few of the less well 
educated monks or friars might visit the sick, but they were supposed 
to treat them only by means of prayers and relics. Moreover, any 
patient who had paid for a cure might demand his money back in case 
he was not cured. We find that laymen demanded their fees in ad- 
vance in clothes, food, or coin, but the clergy demanded payment in 
gold if at all. 

Punishment for failure to cure, on the other hand, was likely to 
be severe. When an itinerant eye surgeon undertook to cure the blind- 
ness of King John of Bohemia, and failed, he was thrown into the river 
Oder and drowned. When Pope John XXII died in 1334, his surgeon 
was flayed alive. On the other hand, a certain Mirfeld, a prior of St. 
Bartholomew’s Church in London,- when cheated of his medical fee, 
became so depressed that he “went insane.” It was he who said that 
one of his medical professors at Oxford rode forty miles to get the 
prescription of “an old woman doctor” for jaundice. 

For the low state of medicine, the superstitions of this century were 

1 Franklin, “Ln Vie PrivSe” (Dea mtdecins), p. 27. 

3 Flemniinp, Rev. Percy, “I, ate Mediaeval I/ondon from a Medical Point of 
View,” 1929. 


largely to blame. Even the most learned believed, with Dante, that a 
vital spirit in the heart controlled life, that the brain controlled the 
intellect and the will, while the liver controlled nutrition. The magic 
number seven was still a talisman. There were supposed to be seven 
elements in the body, seven healing remedies, seven forms of treatment 
by purges, evacuants, tonics, heaters, coolers, bleedings, and thinnings. 
Sometimes the cures were made by the uses of likes, and sometimes by 
opposites. Surgeons wrote treatises on medicine, and physicians wrote 
of operations. 

Dante’s “Divine Comedy” contains almost as many allusions to the 
medical theories of the century as are to be found in the writings of 
any contemporary physician. As a matter of fact, Dante belonged to 
the guild of physicians in Florence, which he had joined in 1297. He, 
like the medical women of the day, had probably studied medicine — 
Galen filtered through Avicenna — with apothecaries or private teachers 
belonging to his political party, although he was also a university man. 

Dante tells us that in his time the Benedictines, who were medical 
teachers, were not expected to practice either medicine or surgery, al- 
though if it seemed necessary to operate for hernia or stones or cataract 
a churchman might do so, provided he temporarily adopted the short 
robe of the barbers. Those unwilling to do surgery fell back on the 
old treatments of Hippocrates and Galen for all diseases, together with 
the prescription of a journey to some holy shrine, and abundant faith in 
the relics of saints. 

Dante assures us rather proudly that he saw Hippocrates and other 
ancient medical men in Hell (Inferno IV, 133-143). He even dares 
to contradict Galen’s anatomy, especially the latter’s theories of the 
arterial circulation and of the position of the heart. 1 He writes fa- 
miliarly of epilepsy, the plague, malarial fever, and leprosy, but not as 
if he were himself a practicing physician. As to midwifery, he merely 
advises women to seek aid from the Virgin in childbirth. He mentions 
no women doctors. 

His Beatrice was a well educated woman. As a memorial to her, 
her father gave their home in Florence to a society, under the care of a 
learned nun, for prevention of infant mortality. This building is still 
used as a foundlings’ hospital, and we may still admire in it the beauti- 
ful medallions in blue and white tiles designed, five hundred years ago, 

1 Dernehl, P. H., “Medical Notes of the Divine Comedy of Dante Aleghieri,” 
Johns Hopkins Hospital Bull., Sept., 1911. 



by Andrea della Robbia, in which each little swathed bambino extends 
its hands beseechingly for alms and sympathy. 

The great Gcsta Ro manor um} which had furnished tales for Boc- 
caccio and Chaucer in their youth, gives a better picture than Dante of 
the part women played in the medical work of the period. 

The women of the “Knights of the Round Table” 2 were always 
ready to tear up their petticoats or flowing sleeves to make a bandage 
for a bleeding wound. Sir Launcelot “made fayre Elayne to gadre 
herbes for hym to make a bayne.” 3 

Atula cured Horn’s wounds; the squire’s beautiful daughter cared 
for the injured Gawain ; the daughter of Guyon-le-Gris, Mcrote, gave 
to Gerart many kinds of treatment in order to cure him; the “ladies of 
Salerno ' healed Estien de Valpres; and the damsels in the Tristan 
stories applied plasters of egg-white and fennel and salt and plantain 
leaves to an infected wound. The women of these stories gave their 
patients mandrake for pain (compare the Parzifal episodes) ; and with 
this for a narcotic they even enucleated cataracts from the eyes. Isolde 
is mentioned sixteen times in the English versions of the Tristan legends 
as having both medical and surgical skill. 


W E know the names of very few of the women who practiced either 
medicine, midwifery, or surgery in England during the fourteenth 
century, but we do know that it was for such women that various 
Concilia, or case records, were written in English, and at least one 
translation of Trotula’s book from the Latin. This was prepared “so 
that oon woman may help another in Sykenesse.” 1 We also surmise, 
from the establishing of certain new laws, that laymen, women, and 
barbers were a considerable worry to the masters in medicine. In 
London, for example, in 1390, four surgeons were sworn before the 
mayor to follow their calling faithfully, and to make scrutiny of others, 
both men and women, who were undertaking cures or practicing the art 
of surgery. 

Eckenstein (op. cit., p. 379) tells us that during this century the 

1 Crump and Jacobs, op. cit., p. 160. 

Mend, William Edward, “Selections from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte 
d’ Arthur,” 1897, pp. 266-300. 

3 Manheimer, G., "Eticns iiber rlie Aertze in alten Frankreich,” 1890. 

‘ Crump and Jacobs, op. cit., p. 421. 



nunneries were well, though rather extravagantly, managed. The 
prioress had her own house and secretary and servants, the cellaress was 
trained to do the buying and preparing of food, and the infirmarian took 
entire charge of any ill. 1 Occasionally we read of a prioress who was 
a specialist, in the treatment of eye diseases, for example ; and there is 
a record of a certain laywoman, Alice Sheoyngton, once a servant in the 
family of a rich man, who travelled around as an itinerant eye doctor. 
She seems also to have had a reputation for curing smallpox, and pre- 
venting its pitting, by means of the red cloth treatment advocated by 
Gilbert and Gaddesden. There seem to be no records of women who 
were prosecuted for such practice, although edicts were issued against 
it. Public executioners, moreover, were allowed to set bones, barbers to 
cup and bleed, and bath attendants to treat skin diseases. 2 

Notwithstanding the popular dislike of men doctors for women 
practitioners, there were even times when men resorted to the remedies 
of “old women” and barbers to help their patients. Take, for example, 
the previously mentioned case cited by Mirfeld, a physician connected 
with St. Bartholomew's hospital, where one of his professors at Oxford 
rode forty miles to get the prescription of “an old woman” for jaundice. 
He also adds that it was necessary for prioresses to understand the 
diagnosis and treatment of diseases in order to know whom to admit to 
their hospitals as patients, for lepers, permanent cripples, the blind, 
thieves whose hands had been cut off, and foundling children were not 
received. Mirfeld also added that prioresses must have studied a certain 
amount of astrology, in order to know by the conjunction of the planets 
when to bleed their patients. 

It is interesting to find that before the close of this century, a few 
women were recognized as surgeons by the Guild of Surgeons, founded 
in 1389, and openly acknowledged as necessary for the care of the sick 
and wounded wherever they might be found. Relics of saints were 
obviously not purchasable by the poor, nor were long journeys practica- 
ble; but, because of the increasing demand for them, the monasteries 
bought the alleged bones, hair, and teeth of anybody called a saint. We 
read, for instance, of a rib bone of St. Wolstan, and a splinter from the 
cross of St. Amphibalus, being bought by one abbey at enormous expense, 
“ expensae hoeribiles.” 

1 Neuburger, vol. II, p. 109. 

2 Moore, Norman, “History of the Study of Medicine in the Britisii Isles,” 
p. 109. 



The morality of the religious houses was, during this period, be- 
coming lower and lower. When Queen Isabella, the “she-wolf of 
France,” widow of King Edward II, passed through St. Albans one day 
in 1327, she was almost mobbed by the women of the town who flocked 
around her carriage with their illegitimate babies, demanding that she 
protect them from the monks, who were their fathers. 1 Queen Isabella 
understood so little English that she was obliged to hear their tales 
through an interpreter; but she ordered the guilty monks to be punished. 
The affairs of this abbey went from bad to worse, until it was suppressed 
in 1509, by order of Henry VIII. 

Although there were no men midwives in those days, occasionally 
the Franciscans studied obstetrics, along with other medical subjects, and 
taught it to women. 2 An Italian abbot named Farecius, who became 
abbot of Abingdon in the time of Henry I of England (1100-1135), was 
supposed to be so skilled in obstetrics that he was asked to attend Queen 
Matilda in childbed. For doing this the Pope refused to create him 
archbishop. He then attempted to open a medical school at Malmsbury 
and to treat diseases of the skin with Saint Gregory’s balsam, taken from 
St. Anselm’s tomb. 

By the fourteenth century such practices were no longer even toler- 
ated, and Queen Philippa (1314-1369), wife of Edward III, employed 
a “female Court Surgeon,” Cecilia of Oxford. Philippa herself was 
unusually well educated. She guided the entire education of her twelve 
children, among them the Black Prince, and helped her daughter Mary 
to found Pembroke College at Cambridge. She also founded Queen’s 
College at Oxford, built hospitals, worked for peace, and was universally 
beloved in Holland, her native land, as well as in England and France. 
We might wish that Queen Philippa had insisted on the entrance of 
women as students at Oxford or Cambridge, but that was no more 
possible in the England of the fourteenth century than it was in France 
during the previous century. 

Very little of value to medical students was included in the cur- 
riculum of the English colleges at that time, and no opportunity for re- 
search. The medical practice of a man doctor was limited to a glance 
at the patient’s urine, a touch of his pulse, a prolonged residence at the 

1 The chronicler tells the story in Latin: "Subornnverunt uxorea auaa et 
qurtada rn lillae peUirea tit occurrnnt , nudatia pectoribus rum hiclenlibua pusi- 
olis, rerjinne hmbrUae erjredicnti de monasterio, ad infeatartdum earn clamoribus 
impart unis, et mentiendum quod hi essent pueri quia monnchi de eia (jenerave- 
runt eaa violent er opprimentes.” 

2 Bateson, Mary, “Medieval England,” 1904, pp. 70, 241. 



























r ^5 

































house of the patient in a surgical case, and the presentation of a large 
bill at the end of the sickness. Women and barbers received lower fees, 
made frequent visits to rich and poor, did manual work for the patient’s 
comfort, treated cripples by the roadside, and cleansed festering sores. 
Though they might not be able to read Aristotle, they were able to 
comfort, and often cure, their patients. 

In 1380 the prior of St. Bartholomew’s hospital prepared a brevi- 
ary, or casebook, for his nurses and doctors. Four sisters and eight 
brothers were continually on duty. Their treatment of patients was 
determined by themselves, although once a week they were visited bv a 
master physician or surgeon as consultant. 

We have already seen a list of the medical books which Chaucer's 
Doctor of Physic had read, and we may suppose that other well-to-do 
men or women had access to these same books, some of which were illus- 
trated. In one picture a woman in a black dress and cap is cupping 
another woman under the breasts and on the abdomen. In another a 
man is being cupped in seven places by a woman. The rules for cup- 
ping were well known. Placed on the head, cups would prevent the 
hair from turning gray and abolish spots before the eyes; placed under 
the chin they cured acne and rosacea and ozena; under the umbilicus 
they “helped suffocation of the uterus and ‘aking’ of the colon and 
womb”; over the hips they cured menorrhagia; above the shoulders they 
produced menstruation ; in fact, cups were used for almost every kind 
of pain or disorder. Numerous pictures exist showing the “phlebotomy 
man,” or the cauterized man, with the places indicated for cupping to 
produce different results. 


JN France conditions were much the same as in England. In both 
countries streets were narrow, sanitation nil, country roads abomin- 
able, and the houses of the poor pitiable. People went about on foot 
or on horseback, or in covered litters. 

Although Paris had more than two hundred thousand inhabitants, 
it had only ten regularly licensed doctors, besides thirty-eight men and 
women known by name, paying taxes, but practicing medicine illegally. 
Even by the end of the century only thirty-two doctors were licensed 
to practice in Paris; and they were under very heavy taxation.’ One 
man had been refused a license because he was married, and especially 

1 Franklin, A., “La Vie Privte d’ Autrefois,” Chap. 8, “Les Midecing,” 1892. 



because he had married a widow. In 1352, however, King John the 
Good legalized the practice of medicine by specially qualified women, 1 
(an example which the surgeons of England 2 followed in 1372). Under 
a law which had been enacted in 13 11 women who could pass an exam- 
ination before the master surgeons, “magistri chirurgici jurati,” of the 
Corporation of Paris might be permitted to practice surgery. By 1352 
this law was almost a dead letter, for many men as well as women were 
ignoring the examinations. Du Bouley 3 tells us that both the dean and 
the faculty insisted that King John’s new laws should apply to both 
sexes. “U triusque sexus, mulieres que aliquae et vetulae venientes ad 
villam Parisiensem gratia practicandi." Guy de Chauliac, however, 
was for prohibiting women from practice on account of their sex, “secta 
mulierum et multorum uliotarum.” Even with him, however, was no 
question but that the “ ventouses,” or chirurgica, should be permitted to 
bleed, administer herbs, make elixirs, reduce fractures, and attend mid- 
wifery cases. 4 

Even in this century there was little opposition to the traveling 
physicians, so-called, who spread out their wares in the marketplaces or 
at fairs, and earned what money they could by imposing their remedies 
upon the gullible public. In Montpellier, at least, no restrictions were 
placed on the teaching of medicine by any man or woman who felt 
inclined to do so; and as late as 1326 Sarah of St. Gilles, a Jewess, 
was carrying on a large private medical school in Montpellier. 

In the south of France, at Avignon, while the popes were there, 
(1305-1377), the laws against irregular practitioners were somewhat 
more strictly enforced. “ Mulieres et vetule et conversi et rustici, non- 
nulli apothecarii, et herbarii quam plures, insuper scholares in rnedicinae 

Facultate nondum docti ignari scientie medicine, ignorantesque 

complexiones hominum,” etc. 5 

1 At the same time all “ignorant persons” were prohibited from administering 
any medicine, alterative or laxative, pills or elvsters. Ordonnances royales, 

T. II, p. 609. 

2 South, Sir James, “Memories of the Craft of Surgery in England,” 1886. 

3 Du Bouley, “Histoire de I’Univers.” T. IV., p. 672. Chartul. T. I.I., No. 434. 

The Edict of 1311 reads as follows: Edicto praesenti statuimus ut in villa et 
viceeomitatu praedietis, nullus chirurgus, nulla ve chirurga artem chirurgiae 
sen opus quomodolibet exercere praesumat . . . prius examinati fuerint dili- 
genter et approbati in ipsa arte, etc. Quoted also by Nicaise, p. 64 ,“La Grande 
Chirurgie de Guy de Chauliac” (originally written in 1363). (1890). 

4 There was a “midwife doctor” named Perette, born about 1360, the victim 
of a trick played on her. She was imprisoned, but pardoned by Charles VI 
“because she was as necessary to the nobility as to the bourgeois.” 

5 Franklin, op. cit., “Les Medecins,” p. 28.' 



Somewhat later in the fourteenth century a law was passed permitting 
master physicians to marry. By 1395 there were thirty- four married 
masters in Paris, although in 1332 such marriages had been strenuously 
fought by the Faculty at the University of Paris. During the entire 
century the popes and the kings quarreled constantly for supremacy 
over the Faculty, not only in France but in all the other countries of 
the Empire. Most of the physicians appointed to care for the families 
ot the kings were canons of the church, with the title summus rnedicus, 
and they were celibates. Towards the end of the century, however, 
a widower might become a canon and might study medicine, but not if 
he dared marry again, and especially not if he married a widow. 

In 1352 King John the Good signed another edict against phy- 
sicians who defied these laws, and before the end of the century Guy de 
Chauliac, a surgeon, openly complained of men of the short gown (i.e 
of the medical school of St. Cosmos), who dared to wear the long gown 
and undertake major surgery. He also complained of the medical 
women who gathered and prescribed herbs for sickness, 1 for, said he, 
many idiot women were practicing a sort of religious nonsense, recom- 
mending patients to pray to special saints for cures rather than relying 
on poultices or ointments, or the use of wine in their surgical dressings. 

When the names of men or women counted so little historically, 
it is not remarkable that few except those of the writers of books have 
come down to us. Perhaps it is as well that the medical women of the 
period did not write books, since those written by the men of this time 
are relatively unimportant. Even the practical work of women in mid- 
wifery was not as well done as in the old days at Salerno. 

I here were, however, rniresses in Prance who inherited the mantle of 
Queen Blanche, and founded hospitals in which they “tended the sick 
with loving care.” Alice Kemp Welch tells us that a certain Mahout, 
Countess of Artois, a great-niece of Saint Louis and mother-in-law of 
the kings Philip IV, le Bel, and Charles V, went to Paris in 1302 to 
consult the scholars as to the best architecture for her hospitals, and to 
study medicine with the best medical scholars while her thirty lazarettos 
and eighty hospitals were building. 

All of these institutions were under her personal jurisdiction, be- 
sides two others in Burgundy and Artois to which she devoted most of 
her time. The hospital nearest to her castle had one large ward, 160 

1 Chauvin, Jeanne, “Ztrnle Historique stir les Professions Accessibles aux 
Femmes 1892 , p. 107 . 



by 35 feet in size. Its walls were 16 feet high. Its roof was gabled, 
with large windows at either end. The sick were laid on soft cushions 
beside the open windows on sunny days. Provision was made for a 
special ward for confinement cases, a chapel, a kitchen, a room for the 
matron, and a room for herself whenever she chose to use it. 

Mahout was a great linguist, and when she died she left a library 
to the hospital, including valuable medical books. For the preparation 
of remedies the Countess relied upon a woman of Paris named Per- 
ronnelle, 1 2 who understood how to prepare all the native herbs. In one 
of Mahout’s manuscripts we find most interesting pictures showing the 
contemporary ways of setting bones, how to “lay hands on” the sick, etc. 
The largest picture on the walls of the ward, as well as in her book, 
depicted the scourging of Christ — a lesson in patience for the sick. The 
Countess Mahout died in 1329 from over-bleeding, a not uncommon 
result of this form of treatment in those days. Whether she had built 
these hospitals in order to gain absolution or from less selfish motives, 
her good deeds long outlived her generation. 

Among the few other French medical women in this century known 
by name is a Jewess, a native of Florence, Jacobina Felicie, who was 
practicing medicine in Paris in 1322. She was prosecuted for practicing 
without a license, but was defiant of the authorities, calmly paying her 
fines time and again. Finally she was brought to court to be judged; 
but seven witnesses testified to her great skill, and the popular demand 
for her release was so insistent that the prosecution was withdrawn. 
She was, however, warned once more to stop practicing, although 
Dominus Odo, and Frater domus Dei Parisiensis, and Maitre Martin, 
and “ plures alii ” declared that she had cured patients who had baffled 
the skill of all the Paris magistri ? Fontanges says that she had studied 
medicine with a master like the married men who could not attend the 
university, and although she was not expected to charge any fees, she 
was given beautiful presents by her rich patients. 

Another excommunicated medical woman who continued to prac- 
tice was Clarisse of Rotomago, or Rouen, who in 1312 came under the 
ban of the prior of Saint Genevieve. He also excommunicated three 
or four other women between 1 322 and 1327 — Jeanne Converse, 

1 Franklin, op. cit., 1887, p. 26, quoting from J. M. Richard, “Mahout, Com- 
tesse d’Artoois,” p. 155. 

2 Crump and Jacobs, “Legacy of the Middle Ages,” 1926, p. 442. This story 
is also repeated by Eileen Power, and by Harriet Fontanges (p. 257). 
Lipinska, pp. 119-123, quotes these names from the Chartul. Paris, II, 149-153, 
255 - 257 , 285 . 



Clarice Cambriere, and others. All these women were practicing with- 
out a license. We can not but wonder how many others were doing 
the same thing, but without so much notoriety. 

It is interesting to find Boccaccio (1313-1375) bringing a French 
medical woman into his tales. In the story of the third day of the 
"Decameron he tells us of La Femme Couragtuse, Gilette, the daugh- 
ter of a physician named Gerard of Narbonne. After the death of her 
father, Gilette took charge of his patients, and cured the king of France 
of a fistula. Boccaccio calls her a Donna Medico. 



J N Germany during the fourteenth century there seems to have been 
more leniency than in France toward women who practiced medicine 
without a license. It is just as difficult, however, to find their names. 
German medical men were not writing books. A specialist in wound 
surgery, Meister Hermann, is known only because he was in the army, 
a distinction denied to women. 

In Mainz in 1288, there was mention of “a medica”; but, during 
more than a hundred years after that time, we find the name of but one 
other woman in Mainz, “Demud, Medico,” and nothing definite con- 
cerning her work. As with the inscriptions on the Greek tombs, we 
have only a name. In 1351, however, a famous woman oculist, Ulricha 
de Foschua, was living near Munich and this much we know only 
because a grateful patient willed to her a stone house and a garden. 

That women surgeons were recognized in both Poland and Ger- 
many is shown by a story of the Emperor Sigismund, who in 1406 
appointed women rather than men on good salaries to tend the poor. 
He had found that the Magistri in Physica refused to go into the homes 
of the poor, or to treat anyone gratuitously. “Hence,” said he, angrily, 
“let them go to Hell,” and it was for this reason that he upheld the 

On the other hand, one of the most famous French surgeons in 
the early years of the century, De Mondeville, rebelled against treating 
patients for nothing because so many were impostors. Others, he com- 
plained, paid in ducks and fowl, sent meagre presents, or held them- 
selves “friends or relatives who expect no bill,” and “never intend to 

A Woman Teaching Anatomy to Her Class— 14th 


( Illustration in nti old nuts., probably German.) 


pay.” He adds, significantly, that some pay in advance in order to be 
kept well, but he continues, “saepe fides data fallit, plexus plaidit, 
vadium valit.” 

In 1394 fifteen medical women were licensed to practice in Frank- 
furt-am-Main, a free city on the border between France and Germany. 
Three of these women were eye specialists, one of whom, Marguerite 
of Naples, became court physician to King Ladislaus. There was also 
a noted woman surgeon in Frankfurt, the daughter of Hans der Wolff, 
who drew patients from far and near. She had learned her art from 
her father, whom she excelled in the nicety of her operations. Several 
medals were awarded her for her treatment of soldiers injured in war, 
and evidently she was outstanding among the women of her time. 

In 1397, according to Schultz, there was a certain Hebei, 
Medecienne, who was a noted physician, and undoubtedly many others, 
Jews and Christians, “exercised their art” in that large and important 
city, for there is a general reference to medical women there as follows: 
“Die Frauen aber verstehen nicht bloss die W unden zu verbinden, 
sie sammeln auch im IV aide de heilkraftigen Krauter und stellen die 
Salben und Pflaster selbst her.” Now and again, when old tombs of 
fourteenth century women are opened, there comes to light among the 
bones and dust of a once busy doctor, a precious medical book, or perhaps 
only a few loose pages of such a book, buried with her body in holy 
ground as her most precious possession. 

A few further words concerning the treatment of the insane in all 
parts of Europe during the Middle Ages may not be out of place here. 
They suffered the most inhumane treatment. Some were chained to 
trees out of doors. Others were tied into cold stone cells and left with- 
out food, clothes, and drink; or they were beaten to exorcise the demon 
which had entered into them. Hospitals for the insane were few and 
poor. There was one in Metz as early as 1100, one in Elbing near 
Dantzig in 1320, and one near the Tower of London in 1371 ; but, 
while it was considered meritorious to be kind to lepers, it was thought 
to be the duty of all Christians to treat the insane as harshly as possible. 
The sole exception to this belief is said to have been in Saragossa, Spain, 
where, even in 1425, the insane received some sort of kindly treatment. 


In Poland several noble women were practicing medicine at this 
time, among them, in Cracow, Catherine, Medica, and Elizabeth, sister 
of Casimir the Great, who became the wife of Charles I of Hungary. 



It was she who invented a famous cure for rheumatism called the 
“Water of the Queen of Hungary.” 1 

The Lou> Countries — Belgium, l landers, Holland 

We have seen in a previous chapter that during the thirteenth 
century a religious sect of women called Beguines, originating in what 
is now Belgium, devoted themselves to the study of medicine and the 
care of the sick in their homes. 1 his sect soon spread throughout cen- 

Ax Abbess as Pharmacist — 13 TH Century 

tral Europe; and, while resisting all efforts to bring them into closer 
subordination to the Church, its members continued to carry on their 
eleemosynary work, and in a quiet and unassuming way did an untold 
amount of good. 1 hey were called piae rnulieres and sanctae mulieres. 
Recruited from all classes of society, the Beguines willingly obeyed the 
rules of the Order, and formed small groups who lived in separate 
houses but worked with a common purpose. 

1 Its formula was as follows: Aqua vitae 3 parts, rosmarin 2 parts, to be 
heated together for fifty hours and then distilled. The dose was one tea- 
s]xx>nful taken with food and drink. This remedy was also used externally. 


The Countess Marguerite of Flanders and of Constantinople in 
1241-1244 did her utmost to bring these Beguines under the power of 
the Pope. Although this was not accomplished, he did succeed in im- 
posing upon them a si/entium perpetuum as to the ownership and rule of 
their property, and this satisfied the countess. The Synod of Vienna in 
13 1 1, however, condemned several of their so-called “errors,” and seven 
years later, certain members were accused of heresies and punished 
severely. This, however, seemed to end their persecution, and even the 
Reformation of the sixteenth century left the Beguines in peace to carry 
on their works of medical charity and mercy quite unmolested. In 
pictures representing their private or hospital work we see them bending 
over beds in each of which one to four patients lie. Above each bed 
hangs a crucifix, and by each bedside is a table on which is a urinal along 
with a comb and some bread. 

While the Beguines were thus endeavoring to provide for the sick 
and infirm in Belgium, a powerful puritanical sect called Lollards were 
crying out both in the Netherlands and in England against the wealth 
of the Church and its abuses, and the need of reform. The Lollards 
lived simply, followed the teachings of Christ, and included medical 
work in their regime. Though having more independence than the 
Beguines, they also visited the sick, treated lepers and patients having 
smallpox, and did what they could for those dying of the plague. In 
pictures of the Lollards their men can be distinguished from their 
women only by their beards. 

Austria and Hungary 

Conditions of medical practice must have been as unprogressive in 
Austria and Hungary in the fourteenth century as they were in the other 
countries of Central Europe. But, though their medical women were 
not outstanding, their existence is recorded. In pictures of old apothe- 
cary shops, 1 it is women, as a rule, who seem to be preparing the medi- 
cines and directing the work. At the Council of Vienna in 1312 the 
following significant law was passed: 2 “In the future the ‘laity’ only 
shall superintend the hospitals in order that the sick may be cared for 
more decently.” In a Silesian document of 1353 a distinction is made 
between kunstarczt, ivundarczt, vrowen dy do ivassir beseen (i.e. 
examine urine) and apotheker. In another manuscript there is a defini- 

1 Bayle, John Peter, (1647-1700), “ Biographie Medicate,” translated edition 
published in 1855. 

2 Baas, Handerson translated, 1889, p. 330. 



tion of the different classes of medical men and women. For example: 
“ a P h y si ' ci 'an is one who gives sour and bitter drinks”; “a barber is one 
who dresses and cuts wounds.” Evidently medical teaching in Austria 
and Hungary was poor. Not until the time of the Empress Maria 
Theresa do we find the medical school in Vienna taking rank with 
those of Italy and the West. 

Jewish Medical Women 

Although under the ban of the Church, many Jews, both men and 
women, were practicing in Europe during the fourteenth century. 
Jewish women’s names appear frequently in various archives as oculists, 
and as femmes honnetes who practiced medicine. These Jews seem to 
have been preferred as doctors by both churchmen and royal personages, 
although their employment was necessarily kept secret. They were 
great students, perhaps the most learned men and women of their time, 
and for this reason inspired confidence in their patients. Moreover, they 
were benevolent at least to the members of their own race, were more 
moral than the Christians, and more hygienic in their daily life. They 
were not in favor of promiscuous bathing, and were against the excesses 
of all kinds that usually follow the wars and pestilences of the period. 

But, for all that, for various reasons, edict after edict went out 
against them. In 1415 Ferdinand of Aragon decreed that “no Jew, 
male or female, shall practice medicine among the Christians,” 1 where- 
upon they continued, as formerly, to practice in secret, only demanding 
higher fees for their cures. There was an Antonia Daniello, Epre'a 
medicha, who was highly honored by the faculty of the medical school 
at Florence, and given the position there as registra from 1386 to 1408. 2 
There was a Jacobina, Medico, fi/ia quondam Bartolomei, who practiced 
in Bologna in 1304. and another Jacobina who practiced in Florence 
in 1348, at the time of the Black Death. Probably many of these Jewish 
women had studied medicine at Salerno, where Rebecca Guarna and 
Mercuriade were among the teachers. 


Fortunately, the names of many of the medical men and women 
of the different cities of Italy have come down to us, saved miraculously 
from the oblivion that overtook many of those who practiced in the other 
war-ridden countries of Europe in the fourteenth century. This is 

N'eubiirger, Max, " Oeschichte der Medizin,” 1.006, vol. II, p. 114. 
s Burckhardt, “Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien,” 1860, vol. I, p. 363. 


probably one result of the fact that Italy led the world in medicine dur- 
ing the fourteenth century. Because her universities were never closed 
to women students the medical schools at Salerno and Bologna con- 
tinued to draw both men and women from every civilized quarter of 
the globe. 

In 1321, Charles, Duke of Calabria, signed a decree that medical 
women only should attend women when they were ill as well as when 
they were in labor. As a result women studied all the subjects studied 
by men students, besides memorizing the work of Trotula, Galen’s 
“Anatomy,” and the materia rnedica of the Arabs. Charles, in person, 
licensed a certain Franeoise, wife of Mathieu de Romana of Salerno, 
giving her the right to practice surgery, “because women needed sur- 
geons of their own sex.” 1 

A fourteenth century manuscript of the Circa Instans of Platearius 
notes that the women of Salerno were “at present” using new remedies 
such as cyclamen for papillomata of the genitalia, calamint as a uterine 
stimulant and astringent, and a new preparation of poppy juice for pain. 
Among the famous women doctors in Salerno at this time was Rebecca 
Guarna. She paid large rents for her offices, and “knew all medicine, 
herbs, and roots.” 

In Bologna there were generally women on the staff of the uni- 
versity. Among the more famous of these was Dorothea Bocchi, 2 who 
in 1390 was appointed professor of medicine and moral philosophy, 
succeeding her father; she taught for forty years. Bologna at that time 
was crowded with students. 

Another famous woman in the university was Alessandra Giliani, 
who died in 1326 ; she was assistant to the great anatomist Mondino. She 
won the admiration of the students for her skill in injecting the veins 
and arteries of a cadaver with hardening fluid in order to demonstrate 
them more clearly. In some copies of Mondino’s anatomy is a picture 
of a young woman with flowing hair who is standing beside the table 
on which is a cadaver whose abdomen she has opened in order to demon- 
strate each organ as Mondino names it. He, as the magister, sits on a 
high stool above Alessandra. She is said to have died of blood poison- 
ing, and her husband, who was also an anatomist, died soon after of 
pulmonary trouble. They are honored by being buried beneath a monu- 
ment in one of the churches in Bologna. 

1 I.ipinska, pp 99-107. Royal Archives of Naples, 1321-1322. A. 240. 

2 Mazzetti, S., “Repertorio clei professori di Bologna,” 1848, p. 59. Also 
Lipinska, p. 151. 



In the Archives of Venice we find the name of another famous 
medical woman, Beatrice medico, widow of Gherardo of Candia. In 
Padua there was Adelmota, wife of James, Prince of Carrara, who 
flourished between 1318 and 1324. Rhodius says that she was a most 
learned physician. 1 “Magna sane laus a medico claro ct dodo pro- 
fecta,’ and “consultondi prudentia medendique arte Patavii rariori 
exemplo, eminuit Adelmota Maltraiersa, Bonitraversi Maltraversi 
comitis Castri novi filia, uxor Jacobini VI.” 

1 he story of Adelmota has been doubted by Harless because he 
could not find her name in any record, but we may well believe that 
Rhodius of the seventeenth century had access to records unknown to 
us in the nineteenth century, especially as he was from Padua himself. 
Many witnesses testified to her skill as an obstetrician, " quae difficilern 
partum expertae sunt ut Plato inquit.” Rhodius also mentions Joanne 
Scrrana as saying, “Jam vero nonne et ipsae obstetrices rernediis datis et 
carminibus possunt portes cxsuscitare, et fasciliores si velint, reddere.” 
There was also at Padua Laura Cereta Serina, a professor of philosophy 
(which term generally included medicine) and six other medical women 
known by name. 2 

In Turin we know there was a Leonctta, wife of Jean de Gorzano, 
recorded as a famous rnedica; and many other names of medical women 
have been found in the archives of northern Italy. 

In southern Italy were still others. In Naples, for instance, we 
find mention of Tomasia de Matteo de Castro Isiae, and Maria Incar- 
nata, two surgeons who were given extraordinary privileges, " priviligium 
cliirurgiae medicandis vulneribus et apostematibus in quibus inventa est 
expers et stiff icie ns .” 3 

In Florence, at the Hospital of Santa Maria Novella, are pre- 
served several prescriptions signed by Madonna Caterina, Medico di 
Casa. She was probably the resident physician. In Siena, at the Hospital 
della Scala (said to have been founded in 898 by a woman named 
Soror), there were in the fourteenth century many followers of Saint 
Elizabeth and Saint Clara, each of whom had established nursing Orders. 

1 Rhodius (1587-1659), Chap. CXXII, p. 194. Quoted by I.ipinska, pp. MS- 

They were /.nffirn Ferretti, Maria Petruecini, Mona Sega, Leonetta Medica, 
Novella Calderone, Madelena Buonsignore. Malacarne, "La Medicina in Italia 
nfr/li ultimi tre secoli,” p. 13, ed. A. Chiapelli. See Lipinska, p. 148. 

3 Rcnzi, “Storia della Medicina in Italia,” II, p. 848. 


The most famous medical saint of this century was, however, Saint 
Catherine of Siena, daughter of a tanner. She was born in 1374, in 
a little house which still stands in a narrow street on a hillside. By 
the time she was twenty years old she had become a devoted Dominican, 
had received stigmata, and was ready to devote her life to the care of the 
sick, especially those who had the plague and other contagious diseases. 
Even as a child she had patiently dressed the sores of lepers, and had 
forced herself daily to wash and cleanse the ulcers of an old woman 
who was dying of a bad smelling cancer. In 1372 she cared for victims 
of the plague for an entire year without taking the disease herself. She 
died in 1380. 


The great medical saint of the Northland, Bridget or Birgetta, was 
born about 1304. She was the daughter of a prince, and married to 
the reigning king when very young. After she had had seven children 
she and her husband abdicated and took vows of celibacy. She then 
began to build hospitals, and to found nunneries where women might 
learn to care for the sick, and, like herself, devote themselves to lives of 
mercy and charity. 

Her own home was at the castle of Wadstena, in East Gothland, 
which still stands as solidly as it stood when she was young. There, 
above the blue water of the lake, she also built a nunnery, and there she 
died in 1373. She had been educated in the arts and the law as well 
as in medicine; she had traveled to Rome and Jerusalem. The story 
of her meetings with all the most interesting men and women of her 
day has been recorded in the Genealogia Brahea, which can be read 
today in the library at Stockholm, together with her Admonitions to 
her son. She was sainted by Pope Boniface IX in 1391. Her day is 
October 8. 

Saint Bridget, like her contemporary, Saint Catherine of Siena, often 
went to Avignon to consult the Pope on matters pertaining to her re- 
ligious houses. Her fame at length spread to England, where the 
monastery at Sion, an old foundation, was reorganized in her name and 
soon outdistanced every other monastery in England in wealth and 
benevolence. It became a great medical and teaching center, and was 
one of the few allowed to remain after the general sweep of the 
Reformation. The excellent medical work done by the earlier monastery 

1 Eekenstein, “Woman under Monastieism,” p. 384. 

28 o 


at Sion has already been mentioned; after the time of Saint Bridget, 
it became the best medical training school for women in England. 

A little before 1350, Bridget censured the reigning prince, Eric of 
Scandinavia, for certain irreligious acts, and foretold tragedies which 
were to come to his family. For this she was in a sense exiled, and 
went to Rome, where she lived for twenty years. 1 Then she censured 
the Pope for remaining in Avignon, and this made her so unpopular in 
Rome that she again returned to Sweden, where she settled down with 
her companions to translate the Bible into Swedish. She died in 1373 
before the work was half done. Her communities consisted of sixty 
women each, with thirteen monks to represent the Apostles, and four 
deacons to represent the great doctors of the Church. There were also 
eight lay brothers to do various kinds of work. All were ruled by an 

It was because of the marriage of Philippa, daughter of Henry IY r 
of England, to Eric XIII in 1406 that Bridget’s influence became so 
paramount at Sion. It was also because of Philippa’s wealth, and that 
of her relatives, that so many Sion daughter houses were built and 
richly endowed. Rules for the nuns and monks of these monasteries 
fill fifty-n ine chapters. In the “Myroure of Oure Ladye” written much 
later, 1 many chapters are devoted to the details of its offices, its punish- 
ments for all sorts of crimes, and also to rules for its physicians. These 
rules were first printed in 1530, along with a translation of the life of 
Saint Bridget. 

nil. mid iv ives or the 14TI1 century 

TT i> indisputable that the midwifery of the fourteenth century was 
left to women who had been more or less trained to care for women 
in labor. The men sat at their desks and wrote, or rather translated 
text-books from the Latin, for the use of these midwives. Among these 
text-books the works of Trotula were the standby, although by this 
time much of her teaching had become diluted with superstition and 
cluttered with stupid additions. They were frequently illustrated, some- 
times with copies of old drawings, sometimes with scenes drawn from 
the imagination of the copyist. The copyists as a rule, for instance, 
conceived the gravid uterus as a sort of pink balloon containing an acro- 
batic baby in all sorts of positions. Unusual positions of the fetus, and 

1 Eekenstein, pp. 395-397. 



all difficult labors, were frequently said to be due to dystocia of the 
pelvis, and sometimes to stone in the bladder. 1 

No matter what training midwives had received, they were licensed 
without difficulty. Baas (op. cit., p. 271) says that in Wiirtzburg, for 
example, there were at one time five midwives appointed by govern- 
mental authority and paid to treat the poor without compensation from 
the patient, each to remain in the house with her patient until her lying-in 
was entirely finished. In case a midwife was called to a patient in 
another town, she must first obtain the consent of the Biirgermeister 
before leaving her own district; and, if she required a consultation, she 
must not quarrel with, or scold, her consultant. The fees to be paid 
by well-to-do patients were regulated by law, but presents were none 
the less accepted from those who were wealthy. 

In France, Witkowski tells us, the midwives of this century were 
exceptionally skilful. From those trained at the Hotel Dieu certain 
women, called ventrieres, were annually appointed to make medico-legal 
examinations. Two of these ventrieres were sent in 1428 to attest the 
virginity of Joan of Arc, one of whom was said to be Iolande of Aragon, 
Queen of Sicily, mother-in-law of King Charles VII. If this latter is 
true, the office must have been a very honorable one. We find, how- 
ever, that a midwife who “lost” a mother was liable to a heavy fine, if 
not worse punishment; while to lose a baby was an even more serious 
matter. Much depended upon the status of the midwife or patient, 
and whether or not the midwife could be accused of witchcraft. Many 
an innocent medical woman was probably killed on the charge of heresy, 
or because she was accused of being a witch. 

1 In an old English manuscript of the fourteenth century now in the British 
Museum, (Sloane, No. 2463), we find many of these illustrations showing the 
various positions of the fetus in utero, drawn in a highly dramatic manner 
like little men and women. They assume seventeen different positions accord- 
ing as they are upright, inverted, transverse, or having prolapsed arms or 
legs, or extended necks. 1, presents by the chin and arms; 2, is standing 
upright; 3, has its head down but its arms bent upward at the elbow, the 
description of which reads: “The third is if the child lyeth groveling or else 
upright, his feet and his hands upward above his head. The midwife in this 
case, must put her fingers in the womb and push up the arms so as to let the 
head come forward.” This was possibly within the comprehension of the 
average English midwife, but it sounds enigmatical to us. 4, is transverse 
with its legs and arms in a dancing position; 5, has the right arm presenting 
from a transverse position; 6, still transverse, but with both arms presenting; 

7, a sort of running position with one leg and one arm in advance; 

11, shows shoulders presenting; 12, presents by the knees; 13, looks like a child 
having an accident in skating on the ice; 14, is totally flexed, head and left leg 
together at the os uteri ; 15, twins, feet first; 16, twins again, head first; 17, 
buttocks presenting. 



If we turn the pages of the “Great Surgery” of Guy de Chauliac, 
written about 1363, we find the exact status of the obstetrician in his 
time. Female anatomy was so little understood that his own mind was 
very foggy and his description of it for the midwives is obscure. He has, 
for example, an illustration of an autopsy of a woman. The scene is 
laid in a bedroom, where seven men and three women are witnessing 
the removal of the uterus. Evidently they find something not accord- 
ing to Galen, a non-bifid uterus perhaps, for the astonishment of the 
operator as well as of the spectators is evident. 

De Chauliac also knew little about obstetrics, except that a woman 
was generally delivered on an obstetric stool, as in the days of Hippocra- 
tes. He says, “The infant presents itself commonly by the head, its 
face turned toward the earth. Every other position is against nature. 
A plurality of infants is also against nature, although Avicenna and 
Albucasis say that there are sometimes two or even nine babies at one 
birth. . . .The birth of an infant is generally controlled by women who 
soften the tissues by fomentations. The mother aids the birth by hold- 
ing her breath or by sneezing violently because of the pepper or euphorbia 
or agrimony fastened to her hips. If the hips are raised, an unnatural 
birth may become natural ... If the infant is dead, the mother’s breasts 
are soft, the child does not move, its eyes are closed, and it can not help 
itself in its birth. The midwife must then anoint her hands, having 
given the mother castor oil and rue, and try to pull the infant through 
the vagina. To do this she must open the uterus as widely as possible 
with her dilator, and apply a vice and hooks to the child’s head and 
pull with both her hands until the child is born, whole or in pieces. 
If the bag of waters has not broken, let the midwife break it with her 
finger nails. If the mother is dead the infant should be removed by 
the same method as was used for the birth of Julius Caesar; viz. the 
mother’s mouth and uterus being forced open, an incision should be made 
in the left side of her abdomen, the uterus exposed and cut with a razor 
while the assistant accoucheuse with her fingers in the uterus, pushes 
the baby from below,” etc., etc. 

The treatment of retained placenta is that of Albucasis. De 
Chauliac says that the patient should hold her breath while the steam from 
boiling camomile and rue is forced into the uterus, the uterus at the 
same time being manipulated from without. If the placenta is then 
still adherent, the midwife should plunge her fingers into sesame oil or 
mucilage of acacia, quickly place her hand inside the uterus, and so 

“The Nativity,” by Giotto, 14th Century. 

Mary lies beneath a blue coverlet. Joseph is wrapped in a yellow blanket. 

The midwife is at the left. 



remove the placenta as gently as possible. If, however, it still adheres, 
she should pull harder and harder, and inject warm basilicon oil into 
the uterus. Then he adds, complacently: “Probably after a few days 
the placenta will suppurate and come away.” Naturally, after such 
an operation, he and the midwives expected that the patient would 
have “milk fever” and a discharge of laudable pus, and would probably 

For the removal of uterine moles the midwife was advised to use 
purgatives, pessaries, and “other instruments,” after which she should 
apply hot fomentations to the abdomen, and paint the interior of the 
uterus with the following mixture applied on a feather: dragon’s blood, 
mummy powder, cypress nuts, alum and wax, all mixed with the white 
of an egg. This was also De Chauliac’s treatment for hemorrhoids and 
ulcers. He tells his readers that, after performing a laparotomy, the 
wound must be sewed as quickly as possible lest the cold air on the 
bowels should cause convulsions and death. The wound must then be 
tightly sewed for fear that the bowels “should fall out” later. He ends 
with the pious advice, “in a difficult case call on God for help.” 

From such instructions it apppears that scientific thinking had 
already begun to decline, for after the days of Roger Bacon, the “things” 
which he had seen through his simple lenses were not seen again for 
centuries. Bacon had actually seen and studied a variety of cells, hairy 
epithelium, spermatozoa, ovules, and other microscopic tissues, but his 
confreres refused either to believe his statements or to test their truth 

Midwives, as we have seen, had many duties outside the lying-in 
room. They did considerable prenatal work. For example, if the legs 
of a pregnant woman were swollen, the midwife took a grinding stone, 
powdered it as finely as possible, mixed it with vinegar and anointed 
the congested legs with this antiphlogistic paste. Of course, to the 
doctors of the fourteenth century the cause of any swelling was merely 
a thickness of the blood, and that was an indication for abundant 
bleeding, a form of treatment to which nobody objected. 


HE story of the medical women of the fourteenth century would 

not be complete without at least a glance at a few of the medical 
men of the age. Only six stand out. 



$$ofa (galUeaaggrega 

tons Lugdun^fisdomim Syrnphoriani Cnapcri) oinrub* 
faimarcmafFaftanubus vtilis&necdTaria. qu^mfecorinct 
pccpra, automates, atcnfetetiasmcmoratu dicnas,cxHip 
poaaris,Galerri^rafiJtTari,Afclepiadis,Di2fcoridis. ) 
ris,Haliabaus,Ifaac,Amccn^,mu]romq3 alioru clajorum 
virorum libris in vnu colteclas : quae ad mgdicain artem re= 
ftaq? viucndi forma plun mu conducu r. Vnacumfuapao 
fa Margarita :De Medici afq^ egn officio. 

Teaching Medicine to a Woman ( 1 4TH Century,) 

This illustration is taken from a Paris (1514) edition of John of Onddesden's 
“Rosa Gallira originally published at Paris in l/fi2. 



Two of these six were Englishmen, John of Arderne (1307-1376), 
and John of Gaddesden (1280-1361). The former was a layman hav- 
ing no diploma, and, according to one author, “he was probably a better 
surgeon for not being a learned man.” 1 2 Arderne had studied medicine 
at Montpellier and practiced in Antwerp, was surgeon to three English 
kings, was present at the battle of Crecy, and was a friend of the Black 
Prince. He was a Master in the Guild of Surgeons, and particularly 
famous in his own day for his operation for fistula in anor Although 
he was a skilled surgeon he was a great believer in charms and astrology ; 
and although he insisted upon a surgeon’s washing his hands and clean- 
ing his finger nails before touching a wound, and was “gentle as a 
woman” in his surgical dressings, always using soothing ointments, like 
attar of roses and white of egg, he believed in laudable pus and in the 
excruciatingly painful cauterizing of bleeding vessels. He was tolerant 
of women doctors, but he speaks of them as “ladies bountiful” because 
they charged little or no fees for their services. For himself, he believed 
in large fees, pomposity, and the necessity of being able to tell a good 
story to interest the waiting and anxious relatives. For one operation 
for fistula, in 1370, he charged forty pounds sterling in cash, a new suit 
of clothes, and a pension of one hundred shillings a year. 3 

His best known works are a Practica and a Liber de Fistulis, both 
of which were used as text books for two hundred years. For several 
of his remedies he gives credit to “Madame Trote of Salerno,” our old 
friend Trotula. Incidentally, it should be said that his method of treat- 
ing fistula was to open up the tract on a grooved director and cauterize 
it to the source. The older treatment was a merely palliative one, by 
setons and salves. 

John of Gaddesden was court physician to Edward I and Edward 
II, a prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the only professor of 
medicine at Oxford. Miss Bateson (op. cit., p. 363) says that in the 
middle of the fourteenth century, under the Franciscan revival, both 
classical and Arabic medicine were taught at Oxford. Very few men, 
however, studied Greek or Hebrew or Arabic sufficiently to read medi- 
cal works in the original. Hence Gaddesden believed in most of the 
traditional nonsense of his time. He was one of the first to use red 

1 Dictionary of National Biography, article by Payne. 

2 He is no. 1831 in Osier’s “Bibliotheca.” 

3 John of Arderne, “Treatise on Fistula in Ano,’’ 1376, by Sir D’Arcy Power, 
1910. John is pictured as a blonde-bearded man, lecturing in cap and gown 
from a sort of throne. 



light in the treatment of smallpox. He believed in the efficacy of 
hanging a cuckoo’s head on the neck of an epileptic patient, in the value 
of cockroach or cricket salve rubbed on the back of a “nephrytick” to 
cure kidney trouble, in the wearing of a colic belt of sealskin, in the 
“royal touch” for the benefit of skin diseases, and in the use of offal in 
medicines. He wrote a popular book called Rosa Angl'tca, completed 
in 1314 — “a vapid rose, devoid of fragrance,” said Guy de Chauliac — 
but it followed the style of the Lilium M ctlicinae of his forerunner 
Bernard of Gordon, and suited the period. 

Medical men in France were no more advanced, professionally, 
than those of England. Paris was a lively city in the fourteenth cen- 
tury, as Froissart tells us, and Montpellier was almost as gay as Paris 
with its tournaments, garden parties, and students’ fetes. Lanfranchi 
or Lanfranc (died 1315) and de Mondeville (died 1320) taught 
anatomy and surgery in Paris, as Guy de Chauliac, after their death, 
taught and wrote in Montpellier. Lanfranc was an Italian, and being 
a married man, he became surgeon of the short robe from the school of 
St. Cosmos, while de Mondeville was a celibate churchman of the long 
robe. Each wrote a Chirurgia Magna, but Lanfranc was too timid 
to perform many operations himself except with the cautery. Knives 
and saws frightened him. 

The third French medical man, also a surgeon, was the most noted 
of the century, Guy de Chauliac, a bold operator and a great teacher. 
He was born in the diocese of Mende, Auvergne, in 1300 and died not 
far from there in 1368 or 1370. His surgical writings fill a great 
volume. They are in the main copied from the older surgery of Roger 
of Salerno, and Saliceto, though with considerable additions of original 
matter. Some people called Guy an impostor, and “an illiterate barber,” 
but this only temporarily hurt his reputation. Although his Latin is 
not elegant, his descriptions of operations and of the Black Death are 
clear; and his “Great Surgery,” the Chirurgia Magna (1363), was soon 
translated into various French dialects and into English. He was an 
expert trephiner and it is said that for some reason he trephined the old 
Pope Clement VI. But, besides trephining instruments, he had forceps 
and dilators, knives, saws, probes, arro\v extractors, bone hammers, 
elevators, separators, and sounds. Many of these instruments could have 
been boiled or otherwise sterilized, and so may have given him his 
laudable healing without pus. 1 He gave his patients what anesthesia 

1 John of Arderne had the contrary opinion, believing in laudable pus. 


was possible from the inhaling of fumes from a narcotic sponge, a relief 
which Trotula and the Salernitans had advocated long before his day. 

Although De Chauliac classified surgeons according to their prefer- 
ence for moist or dry dressings, charms, holy oil, wool, herbs, and 
amulets, he classified women doctors, as we have already noted, 1 among 
the idiots and quacks. He, fortunately, did give them credit, however, 
for their midwifery, and considered them the natural physicians to women 
and children. Since he had only vague notions as to the manipulations 
required by a midwife and her general conduct of an obstetrical case, 
w r e should not be surprised to find him advising her to hang a dried 
toad to the neck of a patient who was having a hemorrhage. Many of 
his prescriptions were no more useful. 2 

De Chauliac was surgeon to three popes, and probably a friend of 
Petrarch, sympathizing with him in his grief at the death of Laura 
during the plague in Avignon. Though terrified, he forced himself to 
remain in the city as long as the plague raged, and then he wrote the 
best account of its ravages that has come down to us from the fourteenth 

Just as Chaucer may have had John of Arderne, the Englishman, 
in mind when he wrote about his “doctor of physic,” so perhaps Kipling 
may have had in mind the heroism of this Frenchman, De Chauliac, 

when he wrote : 

Wonderful little, when all is said, 

Wonderful little our fathers knew, 

Half their remedies cured you dead — 

Most of their teaching was quite untrue. 

Yet when the sickness was sore in the land, 

And neither planets nor herbs assuaged, 

They took their lives in their lancet-hands 
And, oh, what a wonderful war they waged ! 

Yes, when the crosses were chalked on the door — 

(Yes, when the terrible dead-cart rolled,) 

Excellent courage our fathers bore — 

Excellent hearts had our fathers of old. 

None too learned, hut nobly bold 
Into the fight went our fathers of old. 

— “Our Fathers of Old.” 

1 De Chauliac, Guy, p. 16, “mulierum et multorum idiotarum." He said 
they did not read Aristotle, and they depended upon prayers. Evidently he 
was influenced by the Edict of 1352, and agreed that women should study 
medicine or be prohibited from practicing, for “II y avait done des femmes 
exerqant la chirurgie, des chirurgiennes, avec un titre legal, et des medicastres 
qui, sans connaissances speciales, s’vmmiscaient dans la pratique.” Du Boulay, 
“Histoire de I’Univ.” T. IV, p. 672. 

2 In his Grande Chirurgie, De Chauliac cites fourteen hundred authors, 
mentioning Rhazes more than 160 times; Roger of Salerno, 60; Lanfranc, 100; 
Saliceto, 70; De Mondeville, the great surgeon of Philippe le Bel in Paris, more 
than 100 times. “Le Grande Chirurgie de Guy de Chauliac,” 1363, Introduction 
by E. Nicaise (1890). 

<t>) Robinson, Victor, “The Story of Medicine,” 1931, p. 229 ff. 



The greatest teacher at the medical school of Bologna at this time 
was Mundmus, or Mondino. Born in 1275, he studied and taught 
anatomy in the University, and drew students to his lectures from all 
over Europe. The Pope allowed Mondino the unusual privilege of the 
bodies ot two criminals each year to be dissected before his class; but, as 
N.caise says, he dared not see anything wrong in Galen’s descriptions, 
and consequently did not allow what he saw “with his retinae to pene- 
trate his brain.” 

The I ope, on the other hand, refused permission for new books to 
be bi ought into the library at Bologna without recommendation from a 
committee of churchmen. This was a great handicap to the University 
and drove many students to Paris. Mondino himself went to Naples, 
and died there in 1326. We may, in imagination, walk the old streets 
of Bologna with Mondino and his friend, Torrigiano of Mantua, as 
they discussed problems of medicine and surgery. They did wonder 
whether nerves both fetched and carried messages, whether the seat of 
the sensations was in the brain, as Dante had suggested, and whether 
the uterus had seven “cells,” or was bifid; but Mondino declared petu- 
lantly that all wisdom did not die with Galen, thus agreeing with Dante. 
He reasoned that the length of the intestines was to prolong digestion, 
otherwise a man would be obliged to cat all the while and have no time 
for higher occupations. We wonder what Galen would have said. He 
almost dared to denounce the theories of Galen as to the similarity 
between the anatomy of the pig and that of human beings, but here 
courage failed him, and it was left for Vesalius, Mondino’s pupil, to 
defy the Church in this matter. 

In an edition of Mondino s “Anatomy,’ published by Bcringarius 
of Capri in 1521, is a figure of a female sitting bolt upright in a chair 
exposing the interior of her abdomen to an audience. This little book 
on anatomy was first printed in 1478; it has only twenty-two leaves. 

It was often reprinted afterwards for the use of students. Among its 
bits of sage advice is one wherein the author approves a new method of 
fastening the cut edges of a wound together by means of a live ant. 
Its little claws hold the sides so firmly that after its head is removed 
the claws still act as sutures! 

In looking through the medical annals of the fourteenth century 
one is struck with the paucity of Spanish names. Possibly this was 
because of the wars with the Moors, or the difficulties with heretics, or 
because many manuscripts have been destroyed. The only noted name 



is that of Arnold of Villanova, a man actually of the thirteenth century, 
who lived into the fourteenth, dying in 1313, and leaving to the world 
his original writings and a metrical version of the Regimen Sanitatis 
Salernitani. Arnold was adjudged one of the heretics and his works 
were destroyed wherever found. He himself escaped by a hair’s breadth 
only because he was of use to the king. He believed in witchcraft, was 
certainly a fanatic, and possibly an impostor. 

Space should be given for a glance at the treatments which these 
men at the end of the Middle Ages gave for various diseases. For 
pleurisy or any severe pain in the side they placed a hot tile over the 
painful spot and sometimes gave a rich patient a bowl of the “slime” 
made from ground pearls and gold dust boiled with meadow rue. For 
a poorer patient they placed a paste of fennel and ivy on the tender 
spot and gave a glass of wine or hot chicken broth. For dropsy the 
patient drank his own urine, in which powdered toad had been mixed. 
For hemorrhages or boils a whole toad might be attached to the back 
of the neck of the patient, the jewel in its head being a specific for many 
pains. The ashes of a toad placed on the soles of the feet cured hysteria 
and headache. Charms written in Greek were considered a powerful 
remedy. Mummy powder was used for any disease, and the dried blood 
of a youth who had been recently killed was considered almost as effi- 
cacious as Egyptian mummy. 

Weinhold, on the other hand (op. cit., vol. I, p. 159), tells us of a 
certain abbess who was famous for her treatment of fevers. She took 
slate stones, heated them and put them into the bed of a patient to 
make him sweat. She rubbed his feet with salt and vinegar, put rose 
water on his head, covered him with furs, and gave him hot almond 
milk sweetened with candied violets and pomegranates as a drink, which 
sounds much more sensible than the toad and urine mixtures. Cold 
baths were popular at this time. We read of a mayor in Speier, in 1344, 
who took a tub on his journeys. At times his joints became stiff from 
the cold water treatment, but he persevered. He probably also carried 
fossil belemnites in his pocket for a charm, as men nowadays carry a 
horse chestnut. 

Surgeons like Guy de Chauliac and de Mondeville “cast their 
patients into a sleep,” which sometimes lasted several days. This sleep 
was produced with copious doses of poppy juice and the inhalations 
from a soporific sponge containing nightshade, ivy root, blackberry juice, 
hemlock, etc. The dry prepared sponge was soaked in hot water and 



placed at the patient’s nose for half an hour before an operation. Oc- 
casionally the patient became maniacal from these inhalations. 

Other items in the materia medica of the period were saliva, sweat, 
calculi, semen, and menstrual fluid. A wax image of a saint placed 
upon an altar might bring about a cure of anything. A piece of liver 
was used for the treatment of jaundice; blue stone, the color of the eyes, 
for ophthalmia. A cock’s head was hung about the neck of an epileptic, 
while cow dung and spider’s webs were applied to a wound to stop 
a hemorrhage. In “Piers Plowman,” however, we find that a pig’s 
bones would cure a patient as quickly as those of a saint, and a torn 
Pillow case, remarks Chaucer, is as efficacious as the veil of the Virgin. 

The “Perfect Leech,” a manuscript of the fourteenth century, sug- 
gests a merely guess-work prognosis and treatment for a patient: “Give 
him to drynke cristal (ice), and if he spewe it he shall be dyde,” but 
a mixture of all sorts of substances from the animal, vegetable, and 
mineral kingdom, mixed with milk of the mother of a boy, might prevent 
his death and cure his fever. 

Chapter VII 

The Medical Women of the Fifteenth 



A LTHOUGH the fifteenth century was increasingly more brilliant 
in the arts than the fourteenth and the living conditions of the 
masses of the people were possibly more comfortable, little im- 
provement or progress was made in the medical sciences or in hygiene. 
There was, however, a somewhat greater intellectual curiosity among 
the common people. They were more critical and more restive under 
the authority of the Church, although as tenacious as ever of its super- 
stitions. Their delight in the new paintings and sculpture and architec- 
ture and poetry which were developing was childlike and enthusiastic, 
despite the fact that the century showed no single authors as great as 
Chaucer and Dante and no buildings as beautiful as those of the century 
preceding. Also too many of the “novelties” of the age were still 
revamped commonplaces of the old Greek and Roman times; although 
few scholars now could read Greek, and none but scholars could read 

When Constantinople fell in 1453, its scholars fled to Europe, 
bringing with them their books and classical knowledge. The first waves 
of what we term the revival of learning had, however, struck the shores 
of Italy in the early years of the century. Like a slowly rising tide, its 
ripples spread to the West over the Continent, finally reaching England 
a hundred years later. To women these years, generally speaking, 
brought a freer life than had been known since the Golden Age of 
Greece. Upon Christians the influence was a mixed one. There was a 
new impetus toward pity and care for the sick and needy coupled with 
a growing belief in witches and witchcraft, and ever increasing propa- 
ganda against “heretics.” Symonds 1 says that while actual criticism 

1 Symonds, John Addington, “The Renaissance in Italy,” 1888, p. 156. 



was at a low ebb, curiosity was “frantic”; and Walter Pater speaks of 
the “strange, uncritical learning of the Renaissance in Italy, when man 
in the image of God was thought to be the interpreter of the universe 
whose center was the earth and Jerusalem its nucleus.” 

Although it is true that the women of this century invented nothing 
remarkable, built nothing, and discovered nothing of note, it was in a 
large measure to win their admiration that sculptors adorned the vesti- 
bules of churches with the figures of women as saints; showed on the 
seals of the universities the portrait of a woman personified as Wisdom 
or Justice; and always identified goodness as the very essence of the 
feminine character. Leonardo da Vinci was a seeming exception to this 
rule. So was Ghiberti, whose marvelous bronze doors extol mainly 
men; and Donatello, whose men and boys are the embodiment of strength 
and purpose. Leonardo was an exception to many rules, being a much 
greater personality than any of the other artists of his day. He studied 
anatomy from nature, not because of any desire to prove or refute Galen, 
but solely for the sake of accuracy in his drawing. He refused to be a 
copyist, calling such artists “step-sons” of nature. He almost discovered 
the circulation of the blood; but unfortunately was more interested, 
for example, in the outward appearance of the heart than to find the 
way it worked. From his own findings he also radically changed the 
conventional drawings of the uterus and fetus which had gone unchal- 
lenged for centuries. 

In every corner of nearly every country of Europe in the fifteenth 
century, and in almost every year, there were wars. This century 
marked the beginning of standing armies, and of battles in which guns 
and bullets were the chief weapons. The Hundred Years’ War between 
England and France continued until 1453, when, after the burning of 
Joan of Arc 1 and the coronation of Henry VI at Paris in 1431, the 
English finally lost all their French territory except Calais. But when 
they withdrew from France it was to fight the Wars of the Roses for 
thirty years at home. In many countries rival contenders fought for 
thrones. For a period the Church had three popes claiming the papal 
throne, while from 1434 to 1443, there was no pope at all. Quite aside 
from the papacy all Italy was in turmoil; and between Genoa, Venice, 
Florence, Milan, Naples, and Rome, there was no peace for any length 
of time. After the wars between the French and English ended, fresh 

1 The story of Joan of Arc concerns 11s mainly because it is recorded that 
medical women were appointed to examine her, and testify as to her virginity. 



wars began between the French under Charles VIII and the different 
countries of Italy; while, with the end of the Wars of the Roses in 
1485 new wars began with Scotland. 

After reading the long accounts of these seemingly interminable 
wars and intrigues, one wonders how any but the old and the young 
were left alive. And, meanwhile, as always, other ills were taking toll. 
Sanitation was still at its lowest ebb, pestilences endemic. The living 
conditions of the poor in every country were atrocious. When Henry 
VI went to Paris in 1430 it is recorded that he found the country “in a 
shocking condition,” prisoners of “no value” being butchered, or thrust 
into dungeons to starve. Crimes of horrible atrocity were an everyday 

But, on the other hand, there were some heartening signs too. 
New efforts were being made to encourage the education of the masses. 
Women were increasingly trained for positions as teachers. In 1456 
the first printing press was set up at Mainz in Germany; and this new 
process for the duplication of books spread like wildfire all over Europe 
during the latter half of the century. 

Despite every possible handicap trade and travel were continually 
increasing. All roads were so poor as to be dangerous. People were 
drowned fording streams. Robbers took heavy toll from travellers, 
who were obliged to go heavily guarded. In 1450 the Mayor of London 
placed armed guards among the merchants at St. Bartholomew’s Fair, 
for “noo man might well ride nor goo in noo cooste of this land without 
a strength of felauship but that he were robbed.” 1 Margaret Paston 
in 1443 2 laments the many deaths from wayside accidents. People fre- 
quently migrated in search of food; the only communication between 
countries was by the few old Roman roads, or bv the slow trading vessels 
which brought spices and silks to the great ports. At sea risks of every 
sort were even greater, and every ounce of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, 
and drugs involved danger. Human life was, however, cheap. Death 
by torture was punishment even for a simple theft. Murderers were 
broken on the wheel ; women burned at the stake ; and a mother who 
killed her starving baby had a rod stuck through her mouth and a stake 
through her heart, and she was buried before her flesh stopped quivering. 

From the diaries and letters of women of the fifteenth century, 

1 Vickers, Kenneth H., “England in the Later Middle Ages,” 1914, p. 439, 
taken from “Six Town Chronicles.” 

2 “The Paston Letters, 1422-1509,” ed. J. Gairdner, 1904. 



especially from the Paston letters in England, and those of the Medicis 
in Italy, much may be learned about the life of the times in those coun- 
tries. For disobeying her husband a wife was commonly beaten, but as 
Furnivall says, 1 they had learned to “take beatings more sweetly,” 
because submission and deportment were taught to every well-bred girl, 
along with hawking and hunting. Margaret Paston may have been a 
shrew, but she was a capable one. When she decided to give her 
daughter as wife to an old man, she did not hesitate to beat her into 
submission. The Pastons belonged to a nouveau riche family, and, 
while her husband was away, Margaret was obliged to care for their 
recently acquired property. All the girls of the Paston and Medici 
families were well educated. They could write better than their men, 
could read and speak French and perhaps Latin. 

There was no waiting for boys or girls to make their own choice 
as to marriage, for they were mere pawns and betrothed in their child- 
hood. 2 Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI of England and France, 
was betrothed at the age of three years and sent to England to be 
educated. She was sick with the smallpox when she started, but it was 
convenient to send her at that moment, anyway, and smallpox was 
something that everybody had to have. 

European culture was nowhere higher at this time than among the 
Greeks of Constantinople who were sent into exile by its conquest by 
the Turks. They had lived in marble palaces hung with precious silks, 
and floored with Persian rugs of the finest weaves. They loved flowers, 
beautiful garments, and ate the most costly delicacies. 3 Also they were 
great students and book makers and collectors. Although they lost all 
this in that fatal year, 1454, the scattering of them over Europe gave, 
as has been remarked, a new impetus to learning, and a new zest to art. 
We can imagine the surprise with which the peasants of Italy gazed at 
the physicians from Constantinople who arrived at their ports. Impos- 
ing in their bearing, clad in long red velvet robes over richly embroidered 
silks, carrying a staff as their insignia of office, and wearing velvet caps 

1 Furnivall, F. J., “The Babees Book,” 1808, p. 13. 

2 Children were actually bought and sold at times; but, if put out to serve an 
apprenticeship at the age of seven years, they were expected to remain for 
seven years, and to receive neither wages nor good food — “cold meat baked 
on Sunday to last the week.” Ascham tells us that I.ady Jane Grey had a 
very severe training. Stephen Scropc, in the Baston letters, says that he was 
sold like a beast of burden, and he therefore wished to sell his own little 
daughter in the same way. 

Neale, John Mason, “The Fall of Constantinople,” 1913, p. 107. 



A New Born Baby in a Humble Home — 15TH Century 
(From Margarita Philosophica Reisch, 1496. Courtesy British Museum.) 



over their long locks, their looks implied great learning. Unfortunately 
their actual knowledge did not match their appearances being limited to 
our old friends, Galen, Dioscorides, and Hippocrates, and certain astro- 
logical writers. 

The peasants of a country suffered frequent changes of masters 
in those days, but changes in their mode of life came very slowly. Their 
hovels, whether in eastern Europe or western, were still scarcely better 
than cow sheds. A few tiles in the center of the floor served as a fire- 
place ; a mass of rags in corner made a bed ; a crucifix on a bracket was 
the only ornament. Their food was black bread rubbed with onion 
juice, and eaten with a bit of salt fish on Fridays. Their drink was 
native wine or cheap ale. Their chief amusements were to watch the 
rich at their games, and to gaze at the brilliant costumes of the nobility 
during tournaments, or miracle plays, or wedding festivities. They were 
fascinated by the piebald garments of men, the rich trappings of their 
horses, the extreme costumes of the women, with their grotesque conical 
bonnets, their veils with streaming ribbons, and their flowing skirts. 
But their amusement must have been tinged with some envy and no love, 
for murders of the rich by the poor were common. For the rich, in 
western Europe, living had now become much more comfortable. Their 
windows were filled with beautiful glass, their roofs were high-pitched, 
their rooms large, their bedrooms luxurious with tapestries and damask 

With all this show of luxury there was, however, as much unrest 
among the rich as among the poor. Disease struck both alike. The 
Countess of Medici, in 1445, wrote to her son Giovanni, begging him 
to leave Rome before he should fall ill of the fever of the Roman 
Campagna. Poisonings were so common that any sudden death was 
generally attributed to the maliciousness of some enemy. The imposition 
of an extra tax by a king, a whispered tale of suspicion — these were all 
that were needed to produce distrust, a sabre thrust in the dark, or a 
draught of poisoned wine. The Countess urges the lad Giovanni to 
pray at once for pardon for his sins. She tells him that she is sending 
spices and capons and saffron and comfits to his young wife, Lucrezia, 
for her approaching confinement. In 1450 she writes to him again, 
begging him to return to Florence because the plague there had abated. 1 

Some time later, in 1461, when Lucrezia was sent for treatment 

1 Ross, Janet, “Lives of the Early Medici as told in their Correspondence,” 
1911 . 



to the famous baths at Morba near Volterra, where natural mineral 
waters and volcanic steam vents had been covered with bath houses, she 
found bugs “as big as capons” running everywhere. 

It is interesting to note what remedies for gout were sent to 
Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1489 by his physician, Avogarius of Ferrara. 
He was to take a purgation before the middle of March, a conserve at 
sunrise once a month, must wear a sapphire ring on the third finger of 
his left hand in such wise that the stone should touch his skin- In the 
summer he must have a stone found only in the stomach of a swallow 
sewn into his shirt, and wear it under his left breast. Thus, “Deo 
Duce,” the pains of the gout will cease. Another physician to Lorenzo, 
Piero Leoni of Spoleto, writes Lorenzo in 1491 not to drink the water 
of Morba when the wind is northerly. If he takes a drink before break- 
fast he must ride fast and far immediately afterward. He is to beware 
of getting his feet cold or damp, to avoid sunset air, moonlight, eating 
peas, and to be careful not to swallow grape pips. When he died in 
1492, at the age of forty-three, his death was believed to be caused by 
the mis-treatment of a Milan doctor, who had given him cold remedies 
rather than hot, and the wrong kind of jewels ground to powder for a 
tonic. At any rate this physician drowned himself from sorrow and 


T HE medicine of the fifteenth century was no better than it had been. 

It must have been a terrible thing to watch the progress of an 
epidemic, and know of nothing that would stop its ravages. Because 
commerce was increasing, diseases were also being spread with increasing 
speed. Private hygiene was unknown and there was still no public 
disposal of waste, or purification of drinking water. Pigs ran wild in 
the streets of London in 1471, and often bit the legs of pedestrians who 
disturbed them in their hunt for food. Fleet Street was so filthy that 
it had to be specially cleaned, or covered with fresh straw, if a proces- 
sion was to pass through. 

That was the year in which Sir John Paston wrote that the plague 
“was the most unyversall dethe that ever I wist in Ingelonde.” Vickers 
(op. cit., p. 500) says that there was no Pinglish borough or town that 
was not infected. Two years later there was another outbreak of 
“unyversalle feveres, axes, and the bloody flyx” which lasted three rears. 



Then came an epidemic of the “styche,” and another “fflyx.” There 
had been a serious famine in England in 1439, and an epidemic so viru- 
lent that the "kiss of homage to the king” was dispensed with for fear 
of infection. But, bad as conditions in England were, at the same time 
we find a boast in the Robin Hood Ballads, probably not unwarranted, 
that "the commune people... are the beste fedde, and also the best 
dadde of any natyon, crystyn or heathen.” 

I he I lague of 1478 earned off one-third of all the inhabitants of 
Europe. Roland of Capellutus describes it as it was seen in Parma, 
Italy; because it was incurable there was, he says, “neither love nor pity,” 
but only "inhumanity and cruelty to the sufferers.” Then, as now, the 
plague was not so fatal if it attacked only the superficial glands as when 
it caused pneumonia. The only remedy attempted was to lance the 
buboes, as had been done by barbers, women, and quacks in all the earlier 

I hen there came a sweating sickness which swept through July 
and August, 1485, with unabated fury. Dr. Caius, a Welsh physician 
of the time, says that its victims died in a few hours, some in sleep, 
some in wake, some fasting and some full... in one house sometimes 
three or four or all the family were bathed in sweat from the beginning 
to the end.” It began with a pain in the head and heart. Some tried 
to ward it off by voluntary sweatings. The king kept moving from 
place to place to avoid it. Erasmus friend, Ammonius, died eight hours 
after his seizure. All the remedies tried— unicorn’s horn, dragon’s 
water, saffron, baked yolk of egg, and angelica root — were equally 
useless. The most efficient was "seven paternosters, seven ave Marias, 
one credo for every part of the body — Quod pro ccrto probatum cst 
cotidie.” 1 

Besides these greater epidemics there w^ere continuous outbreaks of 
gangrene, erysipelas, whooping cough, and every other contagious disease 
that we know today. Syphilis was so prevalent, that, when the armies 
of Charles VIII were in Italy, a poem u'as written about it . 2 The 
remedies tried for these diseases were, however, no more efficacious than 
those used against the plague during any of the previous epidemics. 
They simply ran their course. 

' r Y h .*? tle . y ’ Henrv . I5) “ Th '' st °rv of I .on don,” 1.009. Creighton, “History 
ot Epidemics in Britain,” vol. I, p. 202. Berdan, op. cit., p. 310. DuBellay, 
‘Feign of Henry VIII,” vol. II, p. 271. J 

Fracastoro, Girolamo, “Syphilis Sire Morbus G alliens,” Venice, 1530. 




pROBABLY the universities of Europe at this time were as fair an 
index of the civilization of each country as they were in previous 
centuries. Except in Italy, no women were allowed to matriculate at 
any university. The old established institutions were crowded with 
students, but their medical schools were small, and somewhat unpopular, 
although the rule of celibacy for doctors was not so strictly enforced as 
it had been hitherto. Medical students, however, required more money 
for their education than those who studied law. A man who studied 
medicine was obliged to live with his professor for four years, during 
which time they “disputed together, visited patients together, and com- 
bined with other medical groups to watch dissections. 1 

It was not until 1460 that any medical students were allowed 
actually to matriculate at the University in Paris, although this had for 
some time been the custom in Italy and Germany. 2 After the invention 
of printing, as Daremberg points out, many of the old customs were 
changed, the students grouping themselves by nations, the teachers 
receiving adequate salaries, and many more students beginning medical 
courses. 3 If, after four years, a student finally succeeded in passing his 
examinations in four subjects he might endeavor to obtain a license to 
practice. For this purpose he had to take a new examination, and then, 
if he had made a good record, don a red robe trimmed with fur, over 
an undergarment of violet silk, a square hat, sparkling jewels, violet 
gloves and gilt spurs. Thus clad, he was ready to ride to the great hall 
where he would receive the benediction of his faculty. 

Even up to the middle of the fifteenth century, however, no uni- 
versity had broken away from its traditional premedical courses in the 
Seven Liberal Arts, although after the coming of the learned Greeks 
(a few of whom arrived as early as 1440) instruction was given at 
Bologna, Oxford, and Salamanca, in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, as 
well as Latin. 4 Only two German universities could boast of more 

1 In London two medical magistri were appointed to oversee the barbers and 
surgeons, and the physicians prayed that “no man or woman should he allowed 
to practice but have a long tyme y used the Scoles of Fisyk withvnne some 
Uuiversitee and be graduated in the same.” This shows that there may have 
been medical women graduates of some Italian university practicing in London. 

2 Rashdall, op. eit., vol. I, p. 502. 

3 Denifle, P. H., “Die Entstehung der Universitaten des Mittelaltem bis 
U00,” 1885. 

4 Crump, C. G., and Jacobs, E. F., “The Legacy of the Middle Ages,” 1926, 
p. 533. 



than two medical professors, and not even at Bologna were there any 
new medical studies. 1 

It was at Salamanca, in Spain, where Columbus studied, that 
innovations were first made. Here he learned the use of the mariner’s 
compass. This university was under the patronage of Queen Isabella 
of Castile, whose friend Beatrix Galindo was professor of Latin and 
philosophy (including medicine). Owing to the influence of the East 
the university was soon noted for its teaching of astrology. Astronomi- 
cal tables and geographical maps were prepared in its halls; and many of 

1 In 1413 the expression “Doctor of Medicine” was first used, by the Faculty 
of Medicine at Paris, the words “physic us”, “medicus” , and “chirurgicus” 
being no longer official and the old word “meiges” was dropped from legal 
forms. In 1490 the University of Montpellier gave courses in French for 
surgeons, but they were not popular with the clergy, and were dropped after 
a few years. 

In 1452 celibacy was dropped from the laws of the University of Paris 
as not necessary for a student; and the lectures were given in new buildings 
in the Rue de la Bucherie rather than in the ecclesiastical buildings. The 
courses in medicine consisted in natural sciences, physiology, hygiene and 
diet, and in pathology, materia medica and therapeutics. Three or four times 
a year there were public dissections of the bodies of criminals who had been 
hanged. (N'icaise, pp. 53, 54). 

3 Beatrix Galindo is said to have worn the costume of a nun or abbess. The 
hospital which she founded in Madrid is still in existence and her name is 
clearly legible on its ancient book of officials. 

Beatrix Galindo, 1473-1535 

From the “Diccionario de la Lenqua Ex panola” 

its courses were under the 
patronage of the Spanish 
nobility. Rich students 
especially were drawn 
there because of its gay 
social life, its games and 
bull fights. During the 
two days of examinations 
the faculty rode about on 
gaily bedecked mules or 
horses, in brilliant caval- 
cades. Examinations were 
held in the chapel of Santa 
Barbara, and were follow- 
ed by as many bull fights 
as there were candidates 
to pay the bills. Women 
like Beatrix Galindo 2 3 
(1473-1535), were edu- 
cated in Italy. 



In London, and among the upper classes of France and Germany, 
the education of girls was not wholly neglected even though they were 
still felt to be inferior mortals. Boys and girls of the nobility w r ere 
taught at home by tutors. The Earl of Northumberland employed 
eleven priests between 1477 and 1527 to teach his children. Wandering 
scholars were always welcome at the homes of the wealthy to teach 
vocational subjects and to describe the lands and people they had visited. 
They gave the family an opportunity to hear and speak foreign languages. 
Many of the daughters of the great land owners could write a letter in 
Latin in true Ciceronian style. 

During the reign of Richard II in 1406 laws had been passed 
whereby “every woman or man of what state or condition that he 
be, shall be free to set their sons or daughters to take learning at any 
school that pleaseth them within the realm.” 1 The Guilds maintained 
free schools, but only for boys, and there were church schools for boys 
at Winchester and Eton ; several cathedrals and monasteries and abbeys 
offered schooling to their members. In 1447, schools being lacking in 
certain regions, King Henry VI permitted parish priests to open them 
where they seemed to be needed. 

Although these free schools were able to provide instruction in 
reading, writing, and arithmetic, these were a poor basis for a medical 
education. Yet it was all that many a physician and surgeon could get. 
Even as late as the end of the fifteenth century, medical education 
seems, from our modern point of view, sadly lacking in everything 
practical, i. e. in directions for the diagnosis of disease and the care of 
the sick. 

In the university at Paris the medical library consisted of only 
fifteen medical books. They included, of course, Hippocrates and 
Galen, a few Salernitan manuscripts, the works of Gilles de Corbeil, 
and one book by Rhazes. Ferrari da Grado says that, in 1438, there 
were also in Paris a translation of Serapion and one of Mesue, besides 
the "Rosa Anglica,” a commentary on Avicenna, a concordance, the 
“A ntidotary” of Nicolaus, Herrada’s "Hortus Sanitatis the "Circa 
Instans” by Platearius, “something” of Constantine’s, and probably a 
copy of Albertus Magnus’ “Secrets.” Whether or not there was in 
Paris a copy of Roger’s “Surgery” or the “Surgery” of Guy de Chauliac, 
or the gynecology of Trotula, Ferrari does not say; but he adds proudly 

1 Wheatley, Henry B., “The Story of London,” Chap. XXI, “Constitutional 
History of England,” 1909. 



that his own library contained eighty-nine manuscripts, of which sixty- 
four were medical, eleven being copies of Galen, Hippocrates, and 
Aristotle. In some of the universities the libraries may have been a 
little larger than that at Paris, but as a rule medical books were very 

I here were, however, larger libraries in some of the royal palaces, 
and in the castles and town mansions of rich merchants, than at the 
universities. The most famous capitalist of the century, Jacques Coeur, 
in his great house at Bourges in France collected treasures from all over 
the world, including manuscripts. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, had 
a magnificent library in England; and Lorenzo de’ Medici had at 
Florence perhaps the largest library in the world, for he employed a 
great number of copyists, especially men who could translate from the 
Greek, and agents were buying manuscripts for him from monasteries 
everywhere. Anne of Brittany (1476-1514) owned almost a thousand 
manuscripts, mainly religious, many of which her two royal husbands 
had acquired by plunder in Italy. Most of them were beautifully illum- 
inated Breviaries, Books of Hours, and Psalm books. 1 

Anne was a \er\ devout woman and believed in sacred relics 
rather than in medicines. But her first four babies were either born 
dead, or died in infancy, in spite of her sacred bones, a Guienne crown- 
piece wrapped in paper, a piece of black wax in a bag made of cloth of 
gold, the tongues of six serpents, rosaries of chalcedony and jasper, her 
offerings to the shrines of all the Breton saints, and even the fact that, 
bare-footed, she had presented rich gifts to the Virgin. 

But neither medicines nor prayers, rosaries nor amulets were always 
efficacious in curing the kings of France. Charles VI had twenty-six 
doctors to keep him well, “besides surgeons and apothecaries,” but he 
died insane in 1422. His son, Charles VII, died of cancer of the jaw; 
and his successor, Louis XI, who died in 1483, 2 was always so obsessed 
with the idea that he was going to be poisoned that his physician was 
obliged to taste all his food. Charles VIII, son of Louis XI, was a 
sickly lad. He was attended by twenty physicians, but died from an 
accident at the age of twenty-eight (1498). 

Sanborn, Helen .T„ “Anne of Brittany,” 1917. See also “Memoires of Phi- 
lippe de Coniines (1447-1511).” 

\\ hen he went to war Louis XI took one surgeon for every 800 soldiers, 
besides his own corps of physicians and surgeons. The Emperor of Germany’ 
Frederick III, had only one physician, a Jew, whom he knighted. 



Consulting Physician's Visit, 15TH Century 

/ Note the woman doctor and the nurse, and the torch bearers and the servant 
carrying incense. From “Monumenta Medica,” 1493. 

By permission of Charles Singer.) 




^ IR Thomas Malory, 1 who died in, or about, 1470, condensed the old 
French stories of King Arthur and his Round Table, and presented 
them to the English readers of his own time. In these revamped tales 2 3 
of the knights and ladies of the court of King Arthur we find no men- 
tion of men physicians. It is instead the fair ladies who remove murder- 
ous weapons from wounds, wash the bleeding surfaces, apply balms, 
and give all possible comfort to the sufferers. Sir Palamydes went to a 
nunnery to be cured; and “at the ly tel pryory [of Sir Marhaus] laydes 
and damosels looked at his hurtes” and treated him with wisdom and 
gentleness. Mayden Lynet “serched the wounds” of Sir Bagdemagus, 
and “stynted his blood.” Lynet also “stanched the bleeding and laid 
an oynement and salve to the wounds” of Sir Gareth (Malory, op. cit., 
vol. I, pp. 215, 233). The “beale Isoud” (vol. I, p. 250), was a “noble 
surgeon”; she found “poyson in the wound of Tristan and heled him,” 
although he had searched in vain by “alle manere of leches and sur- 
geons, both men and wymmen.” All diseases were said to be mysterious, 
but were not individually diagnosed. They were called merely “seke- 
nesse.” In all the Arthurian legends women, as a rule, made 
ointments, kept bandages ready for emergencies, and probed wounds. 
Queen Morgan le Fay (vol. II, p. 33) searched Alexander’s wounds 
and applied an ointment that caused at first great pain ; but the next 
day she changed the dressing, and “thenne was he out of his payne.” 
She gave him such a “drynke that in three days and three nvghtes he 
waked never, but slept.” The “fayre Elayne gathered herbs for to 
make Sir Launcelot a healing bath.” Sir Ywayn “staid with a ladye a 
half year that he might be hole of his grete hurtes.” 

In Germany we find women healing the knights and warriors in 
the tales of Tristan and Blanchefleur. 

In the literature of Italy, so illustrious a writer as Ariosto (1474- 
1533) evidently takes it for granted that, if a warrior is injured, a 
woman can heal his wounds. Angelica, for example, in Canto XIX of 

1 Mead, William Edward, “Selections from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte 

D’Arthur,” 1897. Bould, George M. and Pyle, Walter I,., “King Arthur’s 
Medicine”. John s Hopkins Hospital Bull., vol. VIII, no. 81, 1897. Malory’s 
“Morte D’Arthur” was the fiftieth hook printed by Caxton (1485). 

3 “Le Morte D'Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. by Professor Rhys. 
Everyman’s Library, 1906, 2 vols. 

Mother, Baby and Woman Doctor. 

(From a 15th century tapestry “La Nativite de la Vierge.’’) 



the "Orlando Furioso’’ heals the wounds of Medor after finding him 
almost dead on the ground. She gathers herbs for a tonic, treats him 
for several days, and brings him back to health (Stanzas 20-30) : 

Quando Angelica vide il giovinetto 
Languir ferito, assai vicino a morte 

E rivocando alia memoria l’arte 
Ch’in India imparo gia di chirurgia, 

(Clie par che questo studio in quella parte 
Nobile e degno e di gran laude sia; 

E senza molto rivoltar di carte, 

Ohe 1’ patre ai figli ereditario il dia), 

Si dispose operar con suceo d’erbe, 

Ch’a piu matura vita lo riserbe. 

E recordossi che passando avea 
Veduta un’erba in una piaggia amena; 
Fosso dittaino,! o fosse panacea , 1 
O non so qual di tal effetto piena, 
die stagna il sangue, e de la piaga rea 
Leva ogni spasnio e perigliosa pena. 

La trovo non lontana, e quella colta, 

Dove lasciato avea Medor, die volta. 1 2 


N O showy ceremonies marked the initiation of women into the prac- 
tice of medicine in the fifteenth century, no disturbances of the 
peace, no money squandered for bull fights or banquets. What their 
medical studies consisted of in countries other than Italy we must piece 
together from the scattered accounts made by a few persons. Generally 
older women taught the younger, either from practical experience or 
from what they had learned from Trotula, Hippocrates, Galen, and 
Dioscorides. If women teachers wrote any books, or annotated the 
older texts from their own case records, they were unsigned and prob- 
ably eventually were consigned to the dust heap. At least none has 
come to light. 

Although some of the wealthy women of England and the Con- 
tinent were able to study the Seven Liberal Arts with tutors, and to 
become good linguists, those who studied medicine were able to asso- 
ciate with men physicians only if they confined themselves to the practice 

1 From the time of Pliny the dictamnus plant had been of use in medicine 
to draw out arrows from a wound and scatter suppuration. The panacea 
plant belongs to the aralia family, and was thought to cure many diseases. 

2 Tasso, in the Gerusalemme Liberata (VI 67), confirms this statement of 
Ariosto when he speaks of the “Arte, che per usanza in qual paese ne le figlie 
de i re par che si serbe.” 



of obstetrics and charity work. 1 In 1421 the Church again issued an 
edict completely forbidding women to practice medicine or surgery 
under pain of imprisonment. But it had happened, fortunately, that in 
1414 an edict had also been issued stating that “other than university 
physicians might be licensed by a Bishop on recommendation of the 
Faculty. Ibis forgotten law provided a loop-hole; and in a test case 
in Paris, a medical woman, summoned to trial, was vindicated by the 
demands of her own patients, even as Agnodice of Greece had been 
vindicated seventeen hundred years before. 

Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) issued an edict against the practice 
of medicine or surgery “by Jews or Gentiles, men or women, who 
were not graduates of a university” 2 (“Nemo masculus, aut foemina, 
seu Christianus vel Judaeus nisi magister vel licentiatus in Medicina 
foret, auderet hurnano corpori medicare in Physica vel in Chyrurgia.") 
At the same time (1484), Charles \ III of France refused to license 
women doctors to practice surgery even under the supervision of a phy- 
sician or magister ; but they were permitted to cup and bleed and cauter- 
ize freely, provided they did not accept fees for their work. 

Such laws were, however, continually broken; just as a lau r passed 
in England in 1454 forbidding the study of medicine by other than 
celibates was frequently violated. Married doctors of this period are 
often cited in histories of the University of Oxford. On the Continent 
it is said they were obliged to pay heavy fees to the Church for immunity 
from arrest. In South Germany there is record of a doctor Manegeld, 
whose wife and two daughters were also teachers of medicine and prac- 
titioners connected with a convent. By 1491 both married men and 
barbers were attending medical lectures at the University of Paris. Then 
restrictions were attempted through the apothecaries, who were for- 
bidden even to sell laxatives without a physician’s prescription. 

In the meantime women doctors continued to practice, with or 
without registration, in the midst of wars and epidemics as they always 
had, for the simple reason that they were needed, and could not be 

There were few important medical women in England during the 
fifteenth century. There was one woman of royalty, however, who 
studied medicine in order to “help the poor and sick with intelligence.” 

1 Rnshdall, Hastings, ‘‘The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages”, 
vol. I, pp. 118 flf. 

2 Lipinska, op. cit., p. 14-9. 


This was Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), Countess of Richmond and 
mother of Henry VII. She was a great friend of Erasmus, and of 
other scholars ; and besides founding colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, 
she also established hospitals and almshouses. At one of them, near her 
palace at Westminster, she personally attended to the needs of the 
patients, dressed the sores of the wounded, and prescribed for the sick. 
No remains of her hospital are left. 

Conditions likely to favor the practice of medicine by women were 
no better in France than in England. France was not yet a consolidated 
country, but was composed of many little kingdoms and principalities, 
each ruler envious of the others and determined to extend his boundaries. 
This offers one excuse for the poverty-stricken condition of the uni- 
versities and monasteries, and a reason for the low state of learning in 

With all these adverse conditions it is not surprising that the name 
of but one French medical woman of noble birth, Frances of Brittany, 1 
has come down to us. She retired to a Carmelite monastery, but 
emerged to tend the sick whenever the plague was raging. Another 
French woman, a barber-surgeon, Dame Leonard Pachaude of Avignon, 
widow of Master Mangin Guerin, was given legal authority to inherit 
her husband’s “boutique de barbier et de Chirurgien,” with its equip- 
ment, and to carry on his business (Nicaise, op. cit. , p. lxii). 

It is natural that, if there was one country in the Middle Ages 
where women might study medicine at the universities, that country 
should have more women doctors than any others. This was true of 

We noted that the Medicis were great book collectors and had 
many agents out searching for them. In June, 1491, Poliziano, the 
librarian to the Medicis, wrote his employers that he had discovered 
copies of Galen, Aristotle, and Hippocrates, in Greek, and that he had 
also discovered a copyist who could prepare copies for the Medici 
library. And he adds, as an additional incidental bit, that he has 
just visited the well-known Cassandra Fidelis, finding her a woman 
as handsome as superior in learning. He says he “came away 
astounded at her intellect and scholarship.” This Cassandra Fidelis 

1 Kavanagh (op. eit., p. 349) is authority for the statement that it was this 
Duchess of Brittany, the mother of Anne, the queen of Charles VIII and Louis 
XII, who attended her bitterest enemy through a long illness, and then retired 
to a monastery and eared for the nuns there through an epidemic from which 
she herself died. 



lived most of her life in Venice and Padua, where she was particularly 
renowned for her knowledge of medicine. She wrote a book in 1484 
on the natural sciences and the treatment of disease under the title 
“ De Scientiarurn Online" (Harless, op. cit., p. 138). 

Pierre Leinoync 1 mentions two women in northern Italy, a Lom- 
bard princess named Amalosunta, and another named Pulcheria, both 
of whom, he says, “performed medical miracles in those days by peaceful 
methods,” whatever that may mean. 

Earlier in the century, there lived in Naples a famous daughter of 
a famous Salernitan physician, Laurea Constantia Calcnda, the wife of 
Baldassare de Sancto Magno. She taught medicine in 1423. Tira- 
quellus, Mazza and Toppius, 2 all historians of note, agree that she was 
a medical woman of great erudition. Her daughter Laura somewhat 
later was a teacher at the university of Naples. Renatus Moreau 3 
mentions another teacher at Salerno, named Abella, who was writing 
medical treatises in verse, and also lecturing on bile and the nature of 
women ; and still another named Sentia Guarna, a member of a Sicilian 
family of great lineage. He says of Abella that she was "Donna tli 
rnolto intendiniento." Moreau says 4 there was also a Franqoise, noted 
as a surgeon, who also lectured and wrote on gynecology, and was fully 
licensed to practice medicine. Also a Marguerite of Naples, a graduate 
of Salerno, who was physician to the family of King Ladislaus in 1414, 
and u'rote poetry in her spare time. 

Dorothea Bocchi was still teaching medicine and philosophy in 
Bologna, and continued there until 1436, and a Marguerite Saluzzio 
was practicing in Piedmont in 1460, and so popular that wherever she 
went crowds followed her begging for medicine. 

According to the records, in 1458, Pius II, then Pope, sent to 
Bohemia for Brela, the daughter of its king, asking her to come to Rome 
to treat him. The Bohemians of those days were noted for their cures 
by medicinal springs and mud baths, but we are left in doubt as to the 

1 I.emoyne, I’ierre, "Gallerie of Ileroick Women”, translated by the Marquess 
of Winchester, 1652. 

Mazza, Antonio, "// Istnrium Epitome <te Rebus Salemitatis 1681, p. 129. 
Toppius, Nicholas, “Ril>liotecn Napoletana”, 1678. 

Moreau, Renatus, “Srhola Salernitano, de Valetudine,” 1625. 

1 “Floruerc iqitur in Pntrin Studio doccndo, ac in Cathedris disceptando, 
.Ibella, M erruriadis , Reherra . . . nr Sentia Guarna, ut nit Fortunalis Fidelia.’’ 
Mazza adds, “Eruditas enim multaa hnbemus mulieres, quae non nullis viris 
ad mulla praestantiores, ipsoq; doctrina, vet vicerunt, vel aequnrunt: nam ad 
medicam farultatem mulieres, sicut ad viros aptas esse scripsit Plato nc 
Mnrtialis cecinet.” Rebecca Guarna was perhaps of an earlier date than 


special infirmity of the Pope at this time. He was that Aeneas Sylvius 
Piccolomeni, whose history of his own times makes us wish that others 
during the Middle Ages had written autobiographical reminiscences. As 
to the Brela mentioned, authorities differ. One says that she was a 
medical woman of an earlier time than this, the daughter of a Bohemian 
king named Crocus; but Pope Pius II distinctly says that she was the 
daughter of his enemy, Podiebrad, the then reigning king. 

Baas 1 tells us 
that in this 
century it was 
quite the fash- 
ion for whole 
families to 
practice medi- 
cine together, 
as we have al- 
ready seen was 
the case with 
the Manegelds 
in southern 
Germany. Per- 
haps this is one 
reason why we 
seldom find 
the names of 
women doctors 
recorded. In 
Italy sanitari- 
ums and clin- 
ics were man- 
aged in this 
family way for 
many years. In 

Queen Isabella of Spain Catanea there 

was a family of Brancas who were famous doctors. In Calabria there 
was the Bojani family. In Milan the Norsinis were famous for their 
operations for stone in the bladder and for their facial surgery (including 

1 Baas, John Hermann, “Orundriss der Geschichte der Medic in,” 1876, p. 242. 



the making of new noses for syphilitic patients!). The Savonarola 
family in Ferrara were especially noted for their cures “from head to 
foot.” Michele Savonarola (died in 1462), 1 the grandfather of the 
martyr, wrote a book on general medicine while lie was professor at 
Ferrara. His treatment followed in general the teaching of the Arabs; 
but he was lost — or his patients were — without a talisman and precious 
stone to go with his treatments. He was one of those who advocated 
gold as a medicine, and also the drinking of the blood of children as a 
tonic. ( I his latter remedy was said to have been used with good effect 
in the case of King Louis XI of France.) There was also a family of 
Colets (or Coletti, to use their Italian form of name) who migrated to 
Germany, and were famous there for their operations for stone and for 
their costly cures. 

Besides these various medical families and the university women 
of Italy, there were two important Italian medical women in the fif- 
teenth century who became saints. They' were Catherine of Genoa 
(1447-15 10), and Catherine of Bologna (1413-1463). The latter was 
abbess of the monastery of the Poor Clares. She ruled wisely, and 
instituted visiting nursing of a high order. Her “sisters” were taught 
medicine in order to prescribe for, as well as nurse, their patients; they 
diagnosed diseases, understood the significance of urine and the pulse, 
knew the signs of death, and prayed with these for whom there was no 
earthly help. 

Saint Catherine of Genoa belonged to the noble family of the 
Fieschi. She was the youngest of five children, and, when very young, 
was betrothed to a dissolute fellow, whom she was compelled to marry 
against her will. He continued to be dissipated and faithless until, 
suddenly , they were both convinced of their sins by a traveling preacher. 
In repentance they decided to separate, and devote their lives to the 
cure of the sick, particularly lepers. I hey had been well educated 
in the Seven Liberal Arts and in medicine. 

Catherine became noted for her devotion to the sick, treating those 
with the plague when it was endemic ( 1497-1501 ). In spite of her reck- 
less exposure to contagion she lived until 1510. The kindly and intelligent 
face of this Saint Catherine of Genoa looks out at us from a portrait 
published by Baron von HugelE She was a great mystic; and, like 

1 Savonarola, Giovanni Micliele, “Prnrticn Medicinae,” (Venice), 1486. 

\ on Hugel, Baron Friedrich, “The Mystical Element of Religion as studied 
in St. Catherine of Genoa and her Friends,” 2 vol., 1908, 1922. 

The Hospital of Isabella the Catholic at Santiago de 
Compostela, in Spain. 15th Century. 


some other saints, wore a hair-cloth shirt next her body, lay at night in 
thorns, and practiced self-denials of every kind. It is recorded that, 
when she lay upon her death bed, the ten doctors whom she called in 
consultation “could find nothing the matter with her.” She was con- 
vinced, however, that her time had come, and shortly thereafter she 

In Spain there was a lack of records of medical women, as in most 
other western countries. This was not the fault of Queen Isabella 
(1451-1504), the broad-minded friend of Columbus, or of Beatrix 
Galindo, then a professor at the university of Salamanca. Isabella was 
a well educated woman, and a student of medicine, who understood 
the need of trained physicians both at home and on the battlefields. 1 
We are told by Peter Martyr (1455-1526), her ambassador to Milan, 2 
that, during the war to expel the Moors from Spain, she superintended 
the construction of four large tent hospitals at Santa Fe, provided them 
with all possible comforts, and appointed their physicians, chemists, 
surgeons, and assistants — some of them women. When the war was over 
she undertook the construction of many permanent hospitals all over her 
united country. 

Perhaps the only one of these still in existence is that at the famous 
pilgrimage town of Santiago di Compostella, at the foot of the Pyrenees, 
where never diminishing throngs of pilgrims from every land make a 
permanent hospital as necessary as tent hospitals are on a battlefield. 
Compostella was then a large and busy city. Isabella’s hospital, close 
by the cathedral, was a large Gothic building, light and airy, cool in 
summer and warm in winter, built around four courts in which, as in 
those of the Arabs in Cordova and Seville, fountains played, fruit trees 
provided shade, and cloistered arcades gave convalescents an opportunity 
for short walks. 

In Portugal there was in the fifteenth century another royal medi- 
cal woman, Queen Elizabeth, a woman of great erudition and bene- 
volence. She had studied medicine as a religious duty, and diligently 
practiced it among the poor. Following the traditions of her ancestors 
she built up the universities of Coimbra and Lisbon, and constructed 

Still another royal medical woman was Margaret of the Nether- 

1 Julia Kavanagh tells us that Isabella of Castile “practiced the difficult 
charity of attending the sick with whatever infections and repulsive diseases 
they might be infected.” See Kavanagh, “Women of Christianity,” 1852, p. 102. 

2 Plunkett, Ierne L., “Isabella of Castile, 1451-1504,” 1915. 



lands. 1 She was the daughter of the Emperor Maximilian, became 
the widow of three kings, was aunt of the emperor Charles V of 
Spain and Austria, and herself a long time ruler of the Netherlands. 
She was a woman whose judgment and decisions were both quick and 
wise, because of her careful education in science, medicine, and 
the arts. 

Although Christian women were practicing medicine in the fifteenth 
century, albeit under legal restraint, the Jews were now being hounded, 
tortured, and expatriated from nearly every country of Europe. Not- 
withstanding that they were generally considered the best doctors, they 
were continually under the ban of both Church and State. The king 
of Spain in 1412 signed a decree driving them from Spain; in 1443 the 
Church passed laws forbidding all Christians to employ them, although 
the heads of the Church were even then being privately treated by Jews; 
in France and England Jews continued to be hired bv the year as 
family doctors by private citizens. 2 Francis I of France and the 
Emperor, Frederick III, a few years later, employed and knighted 
Jewish physicians. 

The Archives of Frankfurt-am-Main list fifteen Jewish medical 
women who paid large taxes and practiced various specialties. 3 In 1428 
an eye specialist named Zerline was in trouble with the town councilors, 4 
perhaps for evasion of taxes, and was ordered peremptorily to pay what 
she owed and to stay within the ghetto at night, or to leave Frankfurt 
at once. In 1494, however, a Jewess was rewarded for some good deed 
by the remission of her taxes. 

In Wurzburg 5 the records show that a woman named Sara 
was forced to pay ten florins a year for permission to practice medicine; 
but this was reduced to two after she had bought a new house in town. 
In 1497, in Passau, an edict forbade Jews, and all “old women,” to 
practice either medicine or surgery; but there had been no objection 
on the part of the authorities when Jacopa of Passau, "la medica 
madonna,” during the plague of 1474, succored its plague victims with 
tender care. 0 

1 Tremavne, Eleanor E., “The First Governess of the Netherlands, Margaret 

of Austria,” 1908. 

3 Sehreiher, Rahbi E., “The Jews in Medicine.” Medical Standard, 1912. 

3 “Archives of Frankfort a M.,” 1389-1497. 

* Lipinska, op. cit., pp. 123, 149. 

0 Baas-Handerson, “Jewish Life in the Middle Ages,” 1896, pp. 339, 312. 

* “La medica madonna Tacopa che medicava d'impiastri nel tempo della mor- 
tality del 7/f.” Lipinska, op. cit., p. 149. 



D URING the fifteenth century belief in witchcraft became for the 

first time really wide spread. Theologians and lawyers — and in 
turn the populace — believed, or pretended to believe, that a vast number 
of women were in league with the devil, to the injury of their neighbors. 
Many of these women were tortured until they confessed their guilt, 
when they were publicly killed. This witch mania lasted well into the 
eighteenth century, and all through this time there were thousands of 
people who thought that there were women who could change them- 
selves into bats and sprites and cats, fly through the air on broomsticks, 
enter rooms through keyholes, kill a newly born baby by a word or a 
glance, and by some remote hocus-pocus cause the death of its mother. 

It is not surprising to find that with the bans against women phy- 
sicians, and the witchcraft mania, women became afraid to undertake 
even midwifery, although men were not particularly interested in it. 
Custom and convention continued to insist, however, on having women 
in the position of midwife, not only to the common people but to royalty. 
There was some danger, but there was recompense. Aveling, in his 
history of English midwives, tells us that they received good fees. Mar- 
garet Cobbe, midwife to the queen of Edward IV, in 1470, received ten 
pounds a year in gold for life, together with many presents in recognition 
of her services. 

Witkowski gives us many pictures of the lying-in rooms of this 
century. 1 In one, typical of many, we find a wealthy mother who has 
recently had a baby sitting bolt upright against a pillow drinking her 
gruel, while the woman doctor stands proudly beside the gaily covered 
bed holding the child. Other scenes include a nurse or two, who fetch 
water for the baby’s bath, hold a towel, or prepare the child for its salt 
rub. As a rule the bedroom in these pictures is gorgeously decorated, 
the bed curtained with damask, the woman doctor, or obstetrician, 
dressed in silk or velvet, the floor covered with rare rugs, and a fire 
blazes merrily. All this must have been a great contrast to the lying-in 
room of the peasants. In either case, however, if the baby or its mother 
died, the midwife or doctor was liable to be blamed for it, perhaps also 
tortured under imputation of witchcraft. 

Education of the midwives of this period was generally by oral 

1 Witkowski, Gustave J. A., “Histoire des Accouchevwnts chez tons les 
peuples,” 1887. It has 1585 illustrations. 



CBtfibtecljUnfagttolefid} bie 
Cclitoattgctn fcatuen IjaUenfiiHe 
002 tcc gepttctttt tec geputtutib 
ttach tecgeputb* 

([■Jd) 02tolffuseoctC2 m bet ecc^ncp vonfi eyffi/ 
get gebece vviUcn bin jcb grbeten woeben von cc 
teren feavven/too jd) jnen gc efcaben wdt geben 
cm kucnc letc/als wenn bie fdnvangiccn fcau 
wen fj'nb naebnen bee geputb/vvye fp fid) bn turn 
balltrn fallen vnb mid) bie bcfcnune 311 bet fcau 
wen xnubeft bu bicnaebtti btfcm bnd)lm gefebtn 

Ortollf von Bayerlandt 05th Century) 

He is here instructing a woman that, before examining a pregnant woman, 
she should wrap her hands in cloths soaked in olive oil. 


tradition, taken directly or indirectly from T. rotula. Toward the latter 
part of the century, however, at the earnest request of certain midwives, 
on obstetrics were compiled in the language of each country. T. hese 
books on obstetrics were compiled in the language of each country. 
These books were called by the Germans, “ Frauenbuchleins.” 

That of Ortloff (or Ortolff) von Baverland (i. e. of Bavaria), a 
native of Wurzburg, printed before 1500, 1 is typical of all of them. 
His own portrait graces the opening page. We see an elderly bearded 
man expounding the text to a seraphic looking woman. He tells her 
that before examining the patient she must wrap her hands in a cotton 
cloth soaked in olive oil. This is a new point. He emphasizes the need 
of care of the mother during the months before the birth of her baby, 
and especially of attention to her diet, which, he says, should consist 
largely of beans, because they “make a large and strong child.” 

As concerns the position of the fetus, he insists that a foot presenta- 
tion is “not to be turned”; but that all others must be turned so that 
the child may present by the head. He believes that a knee-elbow posi- 
tion of the mother brings a quicker birth with less pain than a birth 
on the obstetric chair. He adds that the child’s navel should be covered 
with a walnut shell, and bandaged with a cloth soaked in olive oil. 
According to him the treatment of puerperal fever should be expectant, 
chiefly by the drinking of strong old wine. He gives further advice as 
to the possible sequelae of labor, incontinence of urine, swelling of the 
legs, prolapse of the uterus, fistulae, tumors, cancer, etc. He says a 
mother should not be bled, should not jump, and should do only light 
work. A wet nurse should be carefully chosen for the baby, which must 
be kept tightly swathed excepting for a few minutes each day. Its body 
should be washed at least once a week with warm water containing rose 
extract and vinegar. The mother is not to remain in bed more than a 
week, and, if she flows too long, she is to drink dictamnus tea and warm 
wine, and the midwife is to examine the inside of the uterus for bits of 
retained placenta. He adds that, as sterility is always to be feared, a 
mother who wishes to have other children should eat pork and kid 
meat during her lying-in, drink water of violets, and, later, take medi- 
cated baths. 

Another book of this century, written by a man for women doctors, 
or midwives, was the “De mulierum ae gritudimbus” of Antonius Guay- 

1 “Das Frauen Biichlein des Ortolff von Bayerland” (on or before 1500). 
Begleit-Text von Gustav-Klein, reprinted 1910. 



nerius or Guaineri (died 1440), who was a professor at Pavia in the 
first half of the century. He also wrote ‘‘De passionibus stomachi” and 
‘‘De flux'ibus.” The book on gynecology was printed in 1488. It con- 
tains all the current superstitions in obstetrical practice; and ends, as do 
his other books, with “Laus Deo, Amen.” He quotes freely from Trot- 
ula without mentioning her name; but his stercoraceous remedies are his 
own. Where she applied sweet odors to the nose to aid in replacing a 
prolapsed uterus, and spicy vapors to the vulva, he uses the smoke of 
burning cow dung. For the treatment of sterility in the female he uses 
stones from an eagle’s nest, a necklace of peony seeds, and fumigations 
from the burning teeth of a dead bull. For sterility in the male he 
advocates mixing the testicle of an ox and the cerebellum of a sparrow 
with certain herbs, and dividing the mass into pills to be taken at bed- 
time. He adds, “Believe me, this is a sure cure.” He even goes so far 
as to say that, since John the Baptist was born of elderly parents, there 
is always hope for anybody desirous of begetting progeny. 

For the treatment of difficult labor Guaynerius advises merely the 
constant replacing of a prolapsed arm or leg, hoping that the child will 
eventually find a possible way of being born. If the mother dies the child 
may be removed by Caesarian section, since “some of the world’s great- 
est men have been born in this way.” If the mother seems fated to die 
from prolonged labor or hemorrhage or fever, he comforts her by saying 
that “the crucified Christ alone can heal her”; adding, however, that a 
very skilful midwife may save the life of her child by bi-manual version. 

Version was, however, seldom tried; the midwives of the day knew 
no remedy for placenta previa, and were helpless in hemorrhage. Few 
of them would attempt to mutilate an unborn child, in order to remove 
it in pieces and so possibly save the life of the mother. 

The story of the death of Beatrice D’Este (1475-1497) shows us 
the low state of obstetrics at the end of the fifteenth century. At that 
time the duchy of Milan was tottering under the extravagant rule of 
Beatrice’s husband, Ludovico il Moro. The invading army of Charles 
VIII was spreading syphilis in its train all over Italy, and it was a 
common occurrence for a mother to die in labor. The scene is the great 
castle of the Sforzas in Milan, on New Year’s Day, 1497* Two 
thousand guests are feasting and dancing in the great hall. Suddenly, 
Beatrice, only twenty-two, is taken with unusually atrocious labor pains, 
although she had already borne two children quite normally. She flees 
to the tower room, where the midwives are already waiting for her. 



To relieve her agonizing pain one of them advises her to swallow the 
raw white of egg with a few bits of scarlet silk in it; another proposes 
wrapping her right leg in a snake’s skin ; another would have her sit 
over a pot of boiling water; another advises tying the Duke’s cap to 
her abdomen; another brings her hot spirits cooked with stubs of deer’s 
antlers and cochineal; still another mumbles something about “the eagle 
stone under her right arm-pit and a lode stone under the left.” One 
old dame urges her husband to eat a piece of wolf’s meat while she 

One she-wolf and male wolves seven, 

Let a whirling wind arise 
And our evil carry off. 

By then the court Medicus, Marliani, has been summoned, but he 
“regretted that he could do nothing.” Another medicus comes torward, 
and suggests giving the already dying woman “three ounces of river 
snails with muskat nuts and red brayed coral.” Another is for phle- 
botomy; but another wearily shakes his head and says that Mars is in 
the constellation of Cancer and that therefore phlebotomy is contra- 
indicated. A last suggestion is to add cow’s dung to the snail mixture. 
Finally came the chaplain and monks of the castle bringing parts of the 
body of Saint Ambrogio, the ceinture of Saint Margherita, a tooth of 
Saint Cristoforo, and a hair of the Virgin Mary. Ludovico calls them 
all fools, and flees to the chapel, where he vows to give the Virgin a 
candle the size of a mast of a ship if only his wife be saved. But nothing 
avails. Beatrice dies . 1 Can anything throw a more vivid light on the 
obstetrics of the time even among the wealthiest people of Europe ? 

M any other rich and charming young women of Italy died giving 
birth to their babies. One of them, the popular Giovanna degli Albizzi. 
was a relative of the Medicis in Florence, and the wife of Lorenzo 
Tornabuoni. Her portrait is seen in several paintings and sculptures 
by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio and Ghiberti. Poliziano praised her for 
for gentleness, beauty, and great intellectuality, and deplored her death. 
“Giovanna degli Albizzi. .morta nel dare alia luce il secondo f.gliuolo.” 


^FTER printing presses were set up it became easier for people of 
moderate means to buy books. It is interesting to see how soon 

1 Cartwright, Julia, ‘'Beatrice D'Este, Duchess of Milan,” 1S99. Also Merej- 
kowskl, Dmitri, “The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci,” 1931, pp. 234 if. 



medical books were published, especially those on the diseases of women 
and children. The first, Paulus Bagellardus’ "De Aegritudinibus In- 
fantum,” was printed in 1472 in Padua in Larin. Bartholomiius Met- 
linger’s " Kinderbuch 1 printed in German in Augsburg in 1474, was 
a better seller. 

Bagellardus took much of his material directly from Rhazes, and 
it was printed almost as soon as written. Metlinger quoted from many 
of his predecessors, including Galen, Avicenna, Avenzoar, Constantine, 
and other ancient authors who had written only incidentally about babies 
and little children. Evidently, neither of these writers had ever seen a 
manuscript copy of Trotula’s book (it was not printed until after the 
end of the century) ; but they used the same sources that she had fol- 
lowed, adding many practical suggestions from their own observation. 

Metlinger, being no slavish copyist, wrote his little book in as 
simple language as possible, as it was intended for mothers and nurses 
rather than physicians. Parts I and II give directions for the diet and 
hygiene of a well and normal baby. Part III concerns sick children. 
Part IV considers their physical and mental education up to the age of 
seven years. The whole book, or rather pamphlet, fills only forty-five 
pages. Some of the advice is now as obsolete as the language of the 
original text. The nurse, for instance, is to be bled from her right or 
left arm or foot if the baby whom she is feeding has colic, or if its teeth 
are slow in erupting, or if it has a fever. Sometimes as many as twenty- 
four remedies arc to be given to a baby who has an umbilical hernia or 
hydrocephalus. Both Metlinger and Bagellardus agree that Galen was 
right in prohibiting wine for any child before puberty. " IVcin und Birr 
sind Kindern schddlich. derm sir fallen ihnen das Ilaupt mit baser Ilitze 
und betriiben ihr G< ninth” (op. c i t . , p. 45). Metlinger advises the father 
to administer corporal punishment to his child often in order that the 
child may avoid great crimes when he is grown. 2 He describes twenty- 
five diseases of childhood, prescribes pastes and plasters and lotions for 
the rashes which, he says, were first described by Rhazes, “hence the 
name rash.” For the fever of these diseases he recommends soothing 
drinks of barley water and fruit juices, linseed and fig teas, etc. To 

1 Hartholomaus Metlinger’s book was soon translated into Latin, and so 
published in Frankfort. 

1 Metlinger quotes the maxim of Aristotle on the bringing-tip of children: 
“The soul of a child is a clean tablet on which nothing has been written, hut 
on which one may write what he wills. Therefore, children must he trained 
to he honorable, but not punished too severely for misdeeds.” 



prevent the pitting of smallpox he advises powdering the pustules with 
a mixture of magnesia and ground bone, or the use of a salve of these 
ingredients mixed with ground peas, rice, and melon seeds. 

The irritated gums of the teething baby 1 are to be rubbed with hen’s 
grease, dog’s milk, and disgusting animal preparations long since dis- 
carded. For the treatment of sore eyes and a running nose, large glands 
in the neck, and deafness, Metlinger merely twiddles his thumbs and 
says, “The Lord’s will be done,” although the nurse might take the 
milk of the mother of a girl, or camphor water mixed with the juice of 
beans and peonies, and drop some of it into the child’s nose as a panacea. 
For constipation senna tea is the remedy of choice. For stone in the 
bladder, so common in those days, Metlinger says the following pre- 
scription is of value: “Take six green walnuts, grind them and mix 
them with onion juice and strawberry juice; administer the mixture 
freely,”— if it does no good, then “a meister must be called who under- 
stands cutting for stone.” For intestinal worms he prescribes the eggs 
or the bodies of earthworms mashed with milk of bitter almonds. An 
amusing bit of advice as to a way to increase the milk of a wet nurse is 
to feed her the “udders or mammary bags of goats or sheep.” The last 
chapter of Metlinger’s book gives sage advice as to the child’s educa- 
tion up to its seventh year. Fie quotes Galen’s caution that a toddling 
baby may have a “hump-back” if through the carelessness of its nurse 
it has a fall. He advises bathing a weak child in cabbage water; but 
he agrees with Aristotle that fright and overwork and bathing in cold 
water are especially detrimental to little girls, hindering their growth, 
mentally and physically. 

The author of a modern book on the history of children’s diseases, 
“Pediatrics of the Past,” Dr. Ruhriih, compares Bagellardus’ book with 
the little advertising books gotten out by druggists today, and calls 
attention to the use of fresh blood, especially that of little children, as a 
remedy for leprosy and many other diseases. In the tale, Der Arrne 
Heinrich, by Hartmann von Auer, a little girl offers all her blood to 
cure Heinrich’s leprosy. Mead calls attention to the story of Balvn 
and the damoysel in Malory’s “Morte D’Artfiur,” chapter XIII , 2 and 
compares it with the story of Amis and Amiloun in which there are two 

1 The Countess of Medici writes to her husband Lorenzo that their little son, 
Piero, is teething, and has eczema because of poor feeding by his wet nurse. 

2 Mead, William E., Notes on “Malory’s Morte D’Arthur,” 1897, p. 266. 
One old tale says that Constantine the Great had been advised to bathe in 
the blood of three thousand children, but that he refused the remedy. 



brothers, one of whom was cured by the sacrifice of the two children 
of the other. (These children, however, were miraculously brought 
to life again.) Baths in the blood of children were thought to be 
specific for the rejuvenation of elderly people. Marsilio Ficino (1433- 
099 ), recommends this treatment for senility along with elixir of gold. 


T HE fifteenth century may have been picturesque, but for most 
people it was far from pleasant or comfortable. Suffering, starva- 
tion, crime, war, pestilences, and sudden death were the common lot of 
all classes, regardless of sex and station. It is not difficult to understand 
why the medical women of the time did not try more openly to improve 
these conditions, or why they did not see that it was worth while for 
them at least to make notes of their practice. They were discouraged 
and afraid of publicity. T he women who were practicing medicine 
during this century were doing it very quietly, and asking no rewards 
except, perhaps, a seat beside the Blessed Virgin in heaven. This was 
their great hope; it was what gave zest to whatever work they found 
to do. 

But there were hospitals in this century built and managed by 
women. Some of them are still in use. Mention has already been 
made of that of Isabella of Spain at Santiago. Another beautiful one is 
that of Beaune, in the champagne district of central France, which was 
built by Guignonne de Salins and her husband, Nicolas Rollin, in 1443. 
Another was built by the Duchess of Suffolk, Chaucer’s daughter-in- 
law, at Ewelme in England. Another, that of Margaret Beaufort, at 
Westminster, London, has already been mentioned. Each was carried 
on for years by its founder, and was naturally vastly more comfortable 
than any of the great public hospitals, such as the Hotel Dieu, in Paris, 
and the Santo Spirito in Rome. 

Perhaps the most elaborate of these private hospitals was that at 
Beaune. Its long traceried windows were filled with stories in stained 
glass, high ceiling made good ventilation possible, and its many stoves 
down the center of the long wards assured a certain amount of comfort 
to its patients and attendants. Opening from the wards was the chapel, 
a gem of architecture, reputed to contain a piece of the True Cross, 
along with the costly relics of saints and martyrs, including many bones 
of St. Ursula’s eleven thousand virgins. Over the altar hangs an old 


The Hospital of the Duchess of Suffolk, Ewelme, 
England — 15th Century. 

Tomb of the Duchess of Suffolk. 


Dutch painting of the Last Judgment, and through the open doors the 
patients today can hear the pealing organ and the sweet songs of the 
sisters. The refectory still has its long table, set with pewter dishes, 
and its great fireplace, which must have been a boon in winter. The 
mattresses, pillows, and coverlets were at the time of its opening much 
more comfortable than any in the homes of the patients. One ward, 
equipped with twelve carved bedsteads with fine curtains, was set aside 
for the dangerously sick, who were to receive “maternal care." The 
nobility were cared for in a ward with only two beds. All of this was 
in great contrast to the Hotel Dieu in Paris, where rich and poor, sick 
or dying, were laid side by side on vermin infested beds of straw. 1 

The cloisters and gardens at Beaune, the deep well in the court with 
its wrought iron top, the roomy kitchen with its two chimneys, even 
the lavatories, and the pharmacy were all in keeping with the artistic 
tendencies of the Renaissance. Here the doctors and nurses could pro- 
vide tempting food for the patients, and could compound their own 
remedies. Unfortunately, the hospital now has none of its original 
books; but the copper kettles, the pewter bowls, the majolica drug-jars, 
and the stills and mortars of the fifteenth century are still in use today. 

The first six Beguines, who came when the hospital opened in 
1452 to act as nurses under a “superior” named Sister Alardine Gas- 
quiere, served under a hard task-mistress, who ruled with an iron hand 
for eleven years. Medical and nursing work were done by the sisters 
in rotation, three years at each task. Pity, chastity, and obedience they 
had vowed ; but even from among the nobility there was no lack of 
applicants for their positions, despite that the work was very hard, 
especially in times of famine, pestilence, and war. The sisters were 
taught obstetrics by their superior; and from her also they learned the 
diagnosis and treatment of all diseases. 2 

The hospital of the Duchess of Suffolk, was at Ewelme, one of the 
prettiest of English villages, in the Chiltern hills on the Thames. It is 
in a very different style of architecture from those of France or Spain, 

1 In Nutting and Dock’s “History of Nursing” (vol. I, pp. 300-310, 1907) 
there is a description of the old Hotel Dieu in Paris, where, in the fifteenth 
century the nurses evidently prescribed and cared for the patients, prepared 
the medicines, washed the bed clothes in the Seine, and meekly bore their 
long hours, poor food, punishments, and everything else ignominious, all for 
"lie sake of gaining credit in heaven. The hospital windows were seldom 
opened; its beds were dirty; its walls covered with vermin; and the odors 
from the patients were so frightful that the head nun was obliged to make 
her daily visits with a perfumed handkerchief held to her nose. 

2 Wright, Thomas, “Hospitals and Sisterhoods,” pp. 106-115. 



but no less interesting. The duchess was the wife of Thomas Chaucer, 
son of the poet, a highly educated woman and very wealthy, the 
parish church of Ewelme being part of her dowry. She died in 1475, 
and her effigy bears on its left arm the Order of the Garter, being 
one of only three women ever so decorated. She was more fortunate 
than her friend, the Duchess of Gloucester, who was accused of being 
a witch because of her knowledge of medicine and astrology. Her 
“accomplices” were beheaded; she was obliged to walk for three days, 
barefooted, through the streets of London, and then to serve a life 
sentence in prison. 

Dr. James J. Walsh 1 mentions several rich Italian women besides 
the sainted Catherines who devoted themselves to the care of the sick 
and built hospitals and asylums. I here was Benedettina Grimaldi, 
“self-denying, chaste, amiable, charitable, a munificent patroness of the 
Ospedale di Pammatone,” who devoted herself to cases of the plague 
and leprosy. Leprosy was becoming a disease of the past, however, 
because of the segregation of patients in just such leper asylums as this 
of the Grimaldi. In Genoa there were Argentina Spinola, Violanta 
Doria, and Isabella Fiasco, all of whom devoted themselves to prisoners 
and to sick sailors in the port. 

In the public hospitals of Italy the patients possibly received more 
medical attention than in the private hospitals. Of the latter Clav says, 2 
“It is rarely recorded that the custodian of the sick was a licensed 
doctor, although the absence of the title me die ns does not prove that 
the master, or abbess, was ignorant of medicine.” Every fifty years or 
so a physician might be mentioned by name in the records as visiting 
the hospital ; the master, or abbess, was supposed to visit the patients 
twice a day. 

In England it was the custom for a time for the queen to bestow 
hospital “sisterships” on her ladies in waiting; they were deemed thus 
to be settled for life with congenial work and under slight discipline. 
In 1465 an English woman was appointed proctor-for-life at St. John’s 
Hospital, in Canterbury, and skilled women from among the common 
people were chosen “watchers.’ In this century also women were 

appointed to be managers of some of the almshouses. Alice, of St. 
Leonards, in M.10, was a distributor of alms; and Ann Medica, in 
1476, was an “officer” in the hospital at York, where there were at the 

1 Walsh, James J., “The Century of Columbus”, 1914, p. 325. 

3 Clay, Rotha Mary, “The Mediaeval Hospitals of England,” 1914, p. 149. 


time 224 adult patients and 23 children. The Church supported these 
hospitals, which also received money from wills. In 1408 Gower left 
money to the patients as well as to the sisters of five London hospitals, 
including St. Thomas, Southwark, where many years later Florence 
Nightingale first organized the training of nurses. 

In the English hospitals of the fifteenth century, the patients at 
first were laid upon pallets of straw; but, by 1491, they had feather beds 
on wooden bedsteads, and coverings of fur. We read that occasionally 
the beds were examined for vermin by specially appointed men or 
women. Most of the hospitals were dedicated to women saints, St. 
Margaret and St. Katherine being the most popular. The resident 
women doctors wore black or gray costumes like those of the monks or 
brethren ; their hair was cut to the middle of the neck, but not shaved, 
and they had enormous hooded cloaks, and bonnets with wide flaring 
white wings. Sometimes they received a dole of five shillings for a new 

As for treatment in these hospitals, we have already seen that the 
sick were treated heroically. Osier 1 says that according to the blood- 
letting calendars five quarts of blood might be taken from an epileptic 
in a fortnight. The average man, however, was bled or purged accord- 
ing to the advice of the astrologers. 


W E can hardly fully understand the fifteenth century if we do not 
glance at some of its medical books written by men writers, 
particularly those which were dedicated to women. It was a common 
thing then for artists and writers to dedicate their work to some aristo- 
cratic patroness — who was often hard pressed for the means with which 
to repay such devotion. Caxton, the great English printer, printed 
more than seventy books. 

Most early printed books were extremely moral; but Caxton wrote 
for the laity, and his books are seldom pious. One, a book on hygiene, 
is of direct interest to us. He prints rules for exercising the muscles; 
tells his readers how to comb their hair so rhat evil vapors will be driven 
up through the scalp and scattered ; advises them not to lie in bed too 
long, for “even metal rusts when it rests in water” and “stynketh when 
it rests too much.” He gives rules for walking, for playing ball, 

1 Osier, William, “Incunabula Medica”, p. 7. 



wrestling, stone hurling, jumping. Food, he says, should be eaten slow- 
ly, “not too much meat, ” and only a small amount of liquid taken with 
meals. He hits out against the small waists and slender hips of fashion- 
able ladies; and speaks loudly against the trailing of their gowns in the 
filth of the streets. In his “Sayings of the Philosophers” he argues 
against Socrates, who denounced the Greek women of his own time. 
Caxton says proudly, “ I he wymmen of this countrie are now right good, 
wise, humble, discrete, sober, chaste, obedient to their husbands, true, 
steadfast, ever busy, never idle, temperate in speaking, virtuous in all 
their workes, — or at least they should be.” 

On the Continent, in 1470, Bartolomeo Montagnana wrote his 
"Concilia,’' containing the descriptions of three hundred and five “cases,” 
a book to be used as examples by physicians in diagnosis and treatment. 
Manfred, a professor in Bologna, prepared a book containing thousand 
questions and answers, such as “women doctors might wish to know.” 
But the most important of the writers of that day, Gian Matteo Ferrari 
da Grado, 1 was physician to the great Francesco Sforza of Milan and his 
Countess, Bianca Maria, and to the Este family at Ferrara, when Isa- 
bella, the future duchess of Mantua, and Beatrice of Milan, her sister, 
were children. For their mother, Leonora, he wrote a book on gyne- 
cology, which became very popular with the medical women. He still 
believed, as Galen did, that the uterus was bifid and a part of the vagina, 
and that in the horns of the uterus there might be five embryos at once. 
It is more usual, however, he says, “to find one in each horn and one in 
the center.” The ovaries were not supposed to be a part of the organs 
of generation ; and it was believed that the uterus might become impreg- 
nated at a considerable distance, even in a bath. When, in 1430, a 
professor of anatomy was astonished to find, in the body of a woman at 
autopsy, a uterus without horns, he considered the occurrence merely an 
anomaly, and stuck to Galen. 

Ferrari’s Practica (1471) was the first medical book from an 
Italian press. He wrapped a copy of it in waxed cloth, and sent it 
humbly to the then reigning Duke of Ferrara, as a present to the 
Duchess. Ferrari discusses the possibility of diagnosing pregnancy by 
the urine. His own belief is that the color of the urine is an indication 
even of the sex of the baby; but he doubts if it is a part of the scheme 
of God to permit mortals to determine this before the ninth day. For 
the treatment of prolapsus uteri, Ferrari directs the midwife to elevate 

1 Ferrari, Henri-Maxime, “Une Chaire de Medicine au XV Siecle”, 188!). 



the patient’s hips, replace the uterus, and hold it with a tampon soaked 
in wax and shaped like a long cone. Hernias were to be treated by a 
truss held in place by plaster. 

Unfortunately for Ferrari, just as he was beginning service for the 
Duchess Bianca Sforza, the plague broke out and he fled the city. It 
took him years thereafter to win his way back into her favor; but, when 
the duchess had a severe attack of asthma, for which he gave her some 
relief, she reinstated him. He says that he also cured the French king, 
Louis XI, of hemorrhoids; but does not give his treatment for either of 
these cases. It was not usual for physicians in those days to visit the 
patients for whom they were prescribing. When Ferrari, on rare occa- 
sions, did have occasion to visit the Duke it was with proper dignity. 
He was accompanied by a student or two, a boy to carry a torch of 
incense to burn before his nose and a lemon to hold at his mouth in case 
a contagion existed ; another boy carried a bag of remedies. His prog- 
noses were always “in the hands of the Lord.” “Let the Lord take the 
patient if it pleases Him,” was his pious prayer. Ferrari died in 1472. 
He left part of his fortune to his nephews and divided his library be- 
tween them and the hospital at Pavia; his house was to be used by 
“three good students who did not study law,” and the furniture w r as 
left to his wife. 

Some years later Benedict of Nursia, “physicus illustrissimus,” dedi- 
cated a book on hygiene on diet to his “most intelligent ladies,” Isabella 
and Beatrice D’Este. This was the first medical book to be published 
in Rome ; for some reason it has become one of the rarest of incunabula. 

Another medical man who dedicated his books to a woman patron 
was Cornelius Agrippa (born i486), physician to Louise of Savoy, 
mother of Francis I of France. He was interested in human magne- 
tism; and was also an ardent believer in the goodness and innate 
superiority of women. For Louise he wrote on “Female Preeminence, 
or the Dignity and Excellence of that Sex above the Male.” 


ITTLE progress was made in surgery for two hundred years after 

the time of Guy de Chauliac, except in the treatment of gun-shot 
wounds. Hospitals were not as a rule equipped to secure either clean- 



liness or light in their operating rooms; and the instruments in use were 
large and clumsy. Blood-letting, tooth-pulling, cauterizing, the lancing 
of abscesses, the setting of bone- and the dressing of wounds were done 
out in the wards by men or women attendants. Wounds were treated 
by either the "wet ’ or the “dry” system, according as to whether the 
physician followed Lanfranc (cabbage leaves), or copied the Arabs 
(applications of dry cloth and hot stones). Travelling “wound- 
surgeons attended their patients out of doors. 1 hese worthies some- 
times carried a monkey on their packs to attract attention. 

Surgeons in general were looked down upon bv university men, 
and in London, in 14,35, they were forced to form guilds for self- 
protection. If celibates, they were permitted to attend the universities, 
but could not receive a degree. In 1493, the barbers united with the 
surgeons because, in 1461, they had been forbidden to do any major 

Army surgeons, however, were very well paid for their services. 
Thomas Morstede, surgeon to King Henry V at the great battle of 
Agincourt, in 1415, received twelve pence a day, while his twelve assist- 
ants each received six pence. 1 his was good pay, for at that time a day 
laborer received half a penny a day. When Henry took his chief 
physician, Colnet, to France lie was given three archers as a body guard. 
All received the same wages as the surgeons. Ship surgeons received ten 
shillings a month and their living. All of this personnel was under the 
supervision of the physicians of London, who were themselves governed 
by a Rector of Medicine with two surveyors of the Faculty of Physic 
and two Masters of the Craft of Surgery. After 1423 the Board was 
entirelv clerical, under the direction of the physicians of Humphrey, 
Duke of Gloucester, and of Henry VI. 

Eacli of the instruments used by the surgeons of this century, gyne- 
cological speculums, tenacula, forceps, curets, bone-saws and trephines, 
hooks with sharp teeth and saw edges, could be used in many ways. 
A new rule provided that, if a midwife was not able to accomplish the 
birth of a baby, she should summon a strong surgeon for help. Together 
they then inserted a speculum into the vagina “so long as to reach the 
top of the uterus . I his worked a sort of wooden clamp, or dilatable 
frame, which had a double ratchet, like a book press. The speculum 
itself was spoon-shaped, and the dilator was self-retaining. After this 
instrument was properly placed, hooks and knives and slings were used 

A woman surgeon nets as assistant . Evidently an imposter is performing 
the operation purporting to he the removal of a stone from the forehead. 
(Painting by Jan Steen, in the Prado Gallery.) 



in demolishing the infant and delivering it peacemeal. If the placenta 
was adherent it was removed by long spatulae, and then, as the helpless 
patient sat on the birth-stool, with a funnel in her vagina, fumigations 
of smoke or steam were directed into the uterine cavity. Not until 
Ambroise Pare, in the sixteenth century, were more humane methods of 
surgical treatment undertaken. 

That the quacks despised the surgeons of the fifteenth century, and 
vice versa, is seen in George Eliot’s well-known story of Romola. A 
quack who is about to be shaved, arrogantly refuses to allow the barber- 
surgeon to class him with Antonio Benevieni, the greatest master-sur- 
geon of Florence. He says that surgeons are merely carpenters to mend 
broken limbs, or tailors to sew up wounds, or butchers to carve away 
excrescences, not men of science like himself and Hippocrates and Galen 
and Avicenna! Then the barber retaliates by telling the boastful quack 
of a conspiracy on foot against him, because people believe that he 
pounds up toads, and makes salves of worms, and pills from the dried 
livers of rats, mixing them all with his own saliva while uttering blas- 
phemous words. The quack is so frightened by these stories that he 
offers to sell all his wares cheaply to the barber and to leave Florence 
at once. 

It is a curious fact that during the fifteenth century certain sur- 
geons who wrote books on surgery did not know how to set bones. 
Others who were excellent teachers wrote nothing, relying upon their 
pupils to keep their memory green. Thomas Morstede, for example, 
was both an excellent surgeon and teacher, but he wrote nothing. The 
German Army surgeon, Heinrich von Pfolspeundt, who wrote a book 
on fractures in 1460, could not reduce the simplest dislocation or do any 
major surgery. His forte lay in extracting arrows, treating powder 
burns, and probing for bullets. For a styptic he used lime, vitriol, aloes, 
and nut-galls. He poured hot oil into wounds, believed in laudable pus, 
and never tied an artery. From wandering Italians he had learned how 
to make artificial noses. Brunschwygk, on the other hand, who wrote 
the “Buck der Wund Artzeny” (1497), though an army surgeon, did 
no major operations except amputations; but he did set broken bones, 
and he wrote the first account of gunshot wounds to appear in the 
German language. 1 

1 Baas, op. eit. p. 245, “Dis ist das buck der Cirurgia.” Garrison, p. 137, 
tells us that this Jerome Brunswick was an Alsatian army surgeon. Ampu- 
tations were rarely done at this time except for gangrene. 

32 8 


It is probable that women shirked surgery mainly because they 
were afraid of the consequences if a patient should die after their opera- 
tion. For the same reason, fear of the imputation of witchcraft, they 
dared not perform version on a child lest it should be born deformed or 
dead. I hese may well have been the reasons why, even in normal 
obstetrics, women were deteriorating in skill, and calling on surgeons 
for help when they should have relied upon themselves and have aided 
one another when necessary. 

A glance at the list of the earliest printed and illustrated books 
on surgery shows that between 1478 and 1580 the anatomy of Mundinus 
was so popular that it was published twenty-five times, each time with 
the same illustrations. In 1471 came the first Venetian edition of the 
Fasciculus Medicinae" by John of Ketham. This book contains arti- 
cles on uroscopy, blood-letting, and surgery, and also the first illustra- 
tions (wood-cuts of course) to appear in any printed medical com- 
pendium. Garrison (op. c i t . , p. 145), notes that none of its pictures 
were new, or from nature. All were purely traditional, like the “zodiac 
man”, the “blood-letting man”, the wound-man, and the gravid-woman. 
Sudhoff thought they showed the almost stationary character of the 
mediaeval doctor’s mind. But, so far as the first printed book was con- 
cerned, they probably meant simply a copying of pictures which had 
previously appeared in the manuscripts. We must remember that there 
were no proprietary rights to these pictures, and they were used indis- 
criminately by all authors. 

Fortunately, there were by this time artists of talent, Leonardo da 
Vinci in particular, who had studied human anatomy, and corrected 
the old drawings. Even before V esalius, there were anatomists who 
made illustrations of muscles and internal organs more correct than 
ever had been seen before. Leonardo alone made seven hundred and 
fifty separate sketches of muscles and of internal organs, many of which 
are now in the art museums of England and the Continent. 


W ^LE, during the fifteenth century, new worlds were being dis- 
covered by Columbus and the Cabots, and new mechanical 
inventions devised by Leonardo da Vinci and others, it was the invention 
of printing by Gutenberg and a host of followers that changed all the 
conditions of learning. 

We are told that one hundred editions of medical calendars were 



issued from various presses before the end of the century. 1 Osier found 
thirty-three fairly new and somewhat original medical books, out of a 
total of two hundred and seventeen on all subjects, printed before 1481. 2 
By 1502 there had been printed one hundred and six books on medicine 
alone. Some of these books, like the famous “Hortus Sanitatis” , were 
anonymous. It is quite possible, therefore, that this latter book was 
written by a woman, as was the "Iiortus Deliciarum” of Herrad of 
Hohenburg in the twelfth century. Its delight in healthy living and 
its quaint wood-cuts might well come from a woman’s heart and hand ; 
and both text and pictures remind us of Hildegard’s " Mystisches Thier- 
buch und Artzeneyenkunde’' , with its colored pictures of real or fanciful 
animals and plants used in medicine. 

Many of these early medical books were in folio size and beautifully 
bound in leather. Their illustrations were taken without thanks from 
older books, for there was no such thing as copyright in those days. 
A surgery of 1517, the "Feld buck der Wundt Artzney ’’ by Hans von 
Gersdorff, contains illustrations which had appeared originally in a 
manuscript by Saint Hildegard, and later in John of Ketham’s "Fasci- 
culus Medicinae" (1471). Sudhoff 3 dates the “phlebotomy man” back 
to a manuscript dated 1400; and the “zodiacal woman” to an Ulm 
manuscript of 1404. The “disease man” comes from the early thir- 
teenth century. His body is covered with the names of various diseases, 
cerebral disorders in a halo around his head, gout hanging to one foot, 
sciatica to the other. The usual illustration of a “pregnant woman” 
shows her squatting uncomfortably, her arms raised as in prayer, her 
abdomen open to show an infant in utero resting its chin on its tiny 
hand. To show the importance of the color of the urine 4 Ketham’s 
" Fasciculus ” shows us a series of twenty flasks of urine on a shelf, each 
indicating by its tint some disease, rose colors indicating fever, black, a 
disordered liver, etc. 

The conventional often pictured “wound man” is bristling with 
swords and daggers, and bruised by stones and clubs. Inside his chest 
we see a very small heart on a long stem extending from his throat to 
the bottom of his ribs. His diminutive brown liver is partly overlaid 

1 Ballard, James F., “Medical Incunabula”, Boston Med. and Burg. Jour., 
vol. 196, 1907. 

2 Osier, William, “Incunabula Medica”, 1923. 

3 Sudhoff, “Oesehichte der Chirurgie,” p. 55. 

4 Charles Singer edited a new edition of Ketham’s “Fasciculus” in facsimile 
with translation and notes, in 1926. 



by a small stomach at the right. The “sick man” lies in bed, surrounded 
by attendants, men and women, who examine his body and feel his pulse. 
I he “phlebotomy man’’, already mentioned, was always shown covered 
with punctate spots. He is as old, as an illustration, as the hey-day of 
Persian or Greek medicine. The interesting “zodiac man” who is 
reprinted in calendars even today, has the ram at his head, the bull 
behind his neck, a lion at his stomach, and a perfect menagerie of other 
animals resting peacefully on other parts of his body . 1 

1 Here is a partial list of the medical books printed before 1501, taken mainly 
from Osier’s “Incunabula Medico”. Osier mentions 106 in all. 

( 1 4-54, The first hook, the Bible, printed by Gutenberg at Mainz.) 
lk>7, Kalendars, Mainz, for bleeding and purging according to astrological 

1471, Nicolaus’ “Antidotarium", Venice. 

1471, Ferrari’s “Practice”. 

1471, Mes lie’s “Practice”. Padua. 

1471. Ketham, “Fasciculus Medicinae”. Venice. 

1472, 1480, “Regimen Sanitatin'’ (in German and in Latin). 

1472, Peter of Abano’s “ Conciliator ”. Mantua. 

1472, Avicenna’s “Canon”. 

1472, Bartholomeus de Glanville. “De Proprietatibun Rerum”. (Twelve 
editions before 1500.) 

1472, Bagellardus, twenty-two chapters on the diseases of children. 

1473, Serapion, on medicine. 

1474, Bartholomeus Metlinger, on "Diseases of Children”. (The first Eng- 
lish medical hook.) 

1474, Salicet's “Surgery”. Bologna. 

1474, “Regimen Sanitatin’’. (Latin) 

1474, Placentius, “Surgery”. 

147.5, Benedict of Nursia’s “Concilia”. 

147-5, “ Regimen Sanitatin’’, at Augsburg. (No less than 250 editions before 
1500, printed in all languages.) 

1477, Ortollf of Bavaria’s “Arzneibuch”. 

14 77, Michael Scott’s “ Physiognomist ” (contains some gynecology). 

1478, Dioscorides on drugs, Siena. 

1478, Celsius’ “De Medicina’’. 

1478, Guy de Chauliac’s “Surgery” , Lyons. 

1478, Mondinus, “Anatomy”. 

1480, Galen, (part only) 

1480, Aristotle, “De Secretin Mulie rum”. 

1480, Pliny, “Natural History”. 

1480, Hippocrates, “ Aphorisms' ’. 

1480, Albertus Magnus, “De Secretin Mulierum”. 

1480, Arnold of Villanova’s “Commentary” . Augsburg. 

1480, B hazes, “Continenn”. 

1481, The Phlebotomy Man. Louvain. 

1489, Salicet, “Summa Connervationis” . 

1490, A venzoar, “Adjumentum de medela et regimine” . 

1490, Averrhoes’ “Colliget”. 

1490, Galen. (9 books on anatomy, 17 on physiology, 6 on pathology, 1C on 
the pulse, 30 on pharmacy, 14 on therapeutics.) 

1491, Ketham, “Fasciculus Medieiiuie”. (Illustrated) 

1492, John of Gaddesden’s “Rosa Anglica”. 

Chapter VIII 

The Sixteenth Century 


T HE sixteenth century was surprisingly important for its develop- 
ments in geography, astronomy, art, music, and drama. If 
adventurers like Columbus 1 (1446-150(1) and the Cabots (John 
died in 1498, Sebastian in 1557) had not discovered the coasts of the 
Americas, it would probably have been only a short time before Magellan 
(1480-1521) or Drake (1540-1596) would have done the same sort of 
thing even more magnificently. In printing, the early men like Guten- 
berg and Caxton were followed almost immediately by the prolific Al- 
dines and Elzivirs. In art, painters like Fra Angelico were the fore- 
runners of still greater painters — Michael Angelo (1475-1564), Raphael 
(1483-1520), Titian (1477-1576), Holbein the younger (1497-1543), 
and others. Many a minor dramatist was lost to sight when Shakespeare 
(1564-1616) began to bring out his immortal plays at the very end of 
the century, while archaic music became obsolete with the commence- 
ment of the work of Palestrina (1526-1594). 

The fifteenth century has been called the end of the Middle Ages 2 ; 
the sixteenth was the commencement of a new era, an era of free think- 
ing and independence in politics, religion, and science. Singer dates the 
“renaissance” in medicine from 1543, the year in which Vesalius (1514- 
1564) published his anatomy, which was also the year in which Coperni- 

1 Dr. Haggard points out that Columbus sailed the seas to the west not 
wholly for gold, but also for spices, which were chiefly to be used in medicine. 
In his hunt for the famous unicorn’s horn and the toad stone, he found the 
route to lands of tobacco, potatoes and tea. 

2 Adams, Charles Francis, “Columbus and the Spanish Discovery of America,’’ 
1892, p. 11. “During the life and death struggle of the sixteenth century, 
therefore, the whole weight of the discoveries (in America) was thrown against 
religious and political freedom. It only just failed to turn the trembling 
scale.” Hie main crusade against the Protestants began in 1520. Philip II 
said that it was better not to reign at all than to reign over heretics. 

33 2 


cu * (U 73 -I 543 ) brought out his great work on the “Revolution of the 
Heavenly Bodies’. To medical practitioners the years before 1543 
were, as Singer says, like a swamp into which a debased religion might 
sink, but from which science could not have emerged had it not been for 
a few brave men bent on the correlation of the facts of their own observa- 
tion. Among these medical men were, as we shall see, Y'esalius, Para- 
celsus, Ambroise Pare, and Rabelais. (There was still, however, no 
medical woman who could equal Trotula or Hildegard in original 
investigation or who could write like Christine de Pisan.) 

When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of 
the castle church in Wittenberg, in 1517- when Copernicus, in 1543, 
announced a new theory as to the structure of the universe, the end of 
dogma and of unquestioned faith in tradition, had begun. To the women 
of the Renaissance new ideas and religious freedom appealed as strongly 
as to the men, and while the heavy hand of the Inquisition fell on men 
and women alike there was no flinching by the so-called weaker sex 
when it came to the endurance of physical suffering for heresy. 

Despite the ban laid by the Church in 1542 against any books un- 
authorized by itself, “nothing,” as Ranke 1 2 says, “can be more striking 
than the change in the intellectual spirit in Italy, as we approach the end 
of the sixteenth century . . . Ardor for the . . . imitation of the ancients had 
passed away ... a zeal for independent investigation, especially in natural 
sciences, took the place of antiquarian scholarship. . .but this was severely 
repressed by the ecclesiastical rulers... who ruled society.” 

Symonds- says although the Popes were endeavoring to check the 
free spirit in Italy, the task was impossible. “T he corruption of Italy 
was only equalled by its culture, its immorality matched by its enthusi- 
asm.” The Inquisition founded in Spain in 1478 by Torquemada, 
with the permission of Queen Isabella, for the extermination of heretics, 
was now turned against Jews and the new Protestants. The Moors had 
been expelled from Granada. Now the Jews were ordered to leave 
Spain with scarcely the clothes on their backs, even their bodies likely 
to be ripped open at the ports to see if they had swallowed money or 
jewels. Eight hundred thousand Jews left Spain at this time, twenty- 
thousand of whom died in the harbor of Naples and as many more in 
the harbor of Genoa, of plague. At the same time such Turks and 

1 Fisher, Geo. P., “The Reformation,” 1894, p. 412, quoting from Ranke, 
“History of the Popes”, vol. I, p. 493. 

2 Symonds, .1. A., “The Renaissance in Italv, the Age of the Despots,” pp. 
372 et seq., 1888. 


Arabs as were in Italy were expelled or killed by the hundreds. Forty- 
one old women and idiots were burned to death as witches at Como, 
for the witch mania waxed more fiercely than ever all through this 
century. Money could buy off these victims in certain cases. 

Not only those who upheld the Reformation, but such great Cath- 
olic rulers as Lorenzo de’ Medici of Florence, and the writers, Guicciar- 
dini (1483-1540), and Machiavelli (1469-1527), called Rome a “sink 
of iniquity”, and frankly ascribed the moral depravity and political decay 
of Italy to the influence of the popes. Street stabbings, poisoned wine, 
wholesale slaughter and torturings were looked upon as one would at a 
show on the stage. There were, on the other hand, good popes as well 
as bad ; and, in all honesty, it should be said that, during the reign of 
Leo X ( 1 475-1 521), the first Medici pope who ruled from 1513 until 
his early death, Rome was so free from poverty, plague and war that 
it almost doubled in population. This prosperity was definitely checked 
by the invasion of the Bourbons and Germans in 1527, when Pope 
Clement VII (1475-1534) was besieged in Castle Angelo, and the city 
and country were devastated by their armies. England was so calm 
during Leo's pontificate that it was possible for Sir Thomas More 
(1478-1535) to dream and write of “Utopia”. He published his book 
in 1516, sincerely believing that the religion of Rome was the direct 
gift of the Apostles, and the pope its spotless exponent. His refusal to 
renounce the papacy in 1535 cost him his head, and no country has yet 
become Utopia. 

The outstanding cultural current of the sixteenth century was that 
for religious and moral reformation, for new mental freedom. Martin 
Luther was born in the little town of Eisleben, in Germany, in 1493, the 
son of a slate cutter. He went to school in Eisenach, studied law at Er- 
furt, lectured on Aristotle to the students and then became a monk. In 
1517 he openly dared to protest against the sale of indulgences by the 
Dominican Tetzel for the sake of procuring an archbishopric for himself; 
and, as has often been told , nailed his ninety-five theses, or reasons for his 
protest, to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, where he was 
then professor of philosophy. In 1520 he published his tract on the 
“Babylonian Captivity of the Church of God,” for which he was ex- 
communicated by Leo X, and his writings burned. In retaliation, Luther 
promptly burned the papal bull. In 1521 the Emperor, Charles V, 
proscribed him, and he was imprisoned for nine months, during which 
time, still defiant, he translated the New Testament into German. 


33 + 

Twelve years later he finished the Old Testament, thus giving to his 
country the purest High-German it had ever had; and, as did the English 
with their King James Bible”, fixed the literary language of his 
country for all time. In 1524 he renounced his monk’s garb for matri- 
mony. His wife had been a nun. I hey had five children. In 1527 
he was writing poetry and hymns, some of which lie set to music. Among 
them Lin frstc Burn ist unser Gott ’ easily takes first place. His motto 
throughout his life was, "I can do naught else. So help me God”; and, 
though frequently denounced as a heretic, he died in his hed in 1546. 

John Calvin (1509-1564) was a Frenchman from Noyon in 
Picardy, and like Luther, a university man. In 1528 he became a 
I rotestant as well as a militant worker for the Reformation. 
He published his Institutes at Basle in 1536. His controversy with 
the medico-religious Spaniard, Servetus (1511-1553) resulted in various 
accusations of heresy against the latter and finally in his death at the 
stake in Geneva. 

It was Servetus who was the first to discover the true circulation 
of the blood, and the functions of the lungs. He was born at Tudcla 
or \ illanova; studied law and theology and medicine at various uni- 
versities in France and Spain; and practiced medicine at Avignon and 
Vienne in southern France, where he published a book on medicinal 
syrups. After a few years lie became convinced of the errors of both 
the religious and the scientific teaching of his time, and, in 1553, pub- 
lished his Christinnismi Restitutio. After tins he had no peace from 
either Catholics or Protestants. He was burned in effigy with his book 
in Lyons; escaped to Naples, where he was “exposed” by Calvin; brought 
back to Geneva, tortured and burned at the stake there, all before his 
book was one year old ; one of many martyrs to the cause of truth. 

It was in 1546 that Servetus discovered the lesser circulation of 
the blood. Cesalpinus (1524-1603) discovered the greater circulation 
in 1569; and Sylvius (1 478-1 5 S 5 ) 1 and Fabricius of Aquapcndente 
( 1537-1619) discovered the valves in the veins before 1574, thus ante- 
dating even the birth of Harvey by four years. Servetus, in his book 
on the “Trinity,” had fearlessly announced that Galen was wrong in his 
ideas of the circulation of the blood. He showed for the first time that 
there was no communication between the two sides of the heart, and that 
the blood flowed from its right side to the lungs, and returned to its left 

1 “Sylvius” was Jacques Dubois in common parlance. lie was the teacher of 


An Anatomical Figure for Students. (i6th Century.) 

From “Margarita Philosophica” by Reisch, 1^96. (Courtesy of the 

British Museum.) 



side to be sent to all parts of the body. Harvey, who somewhat later 
studied in Italy and France, also knew these facts; but he dared not 
publish them in England during the reign of his kings, James I and 
Charles I, because at that time non-conformists of any sort were at best 
misunderstood, at worst persecuted, banished, imprisoned, or even killed. 
The story of Servetus helps us to understand the risks that the scientific 
researcher faced in these centuries, and the hesitancy of women at putting 
into print what they may have discovered or learned. 

Much of this fear to contradict old beliefs in medicine and science 
was caused by the edicts of the church, which still made the teachings 
of Galen a matter of veritable religious dogma, although Galen himself 
had laid no claim to infallibility and had urged his followers, not merely 
to think, but to experiment and clear up doubtful points. In the six- 
teenth century, however, if a student wished to see a body dissected, he 
generally was obliged to go to Italy, cadavers being more easily obtained 
there than in other countries. At the Italian universities where, as we 
have seen, women were welcome students, dissections on criminals w r ere 
permitted three times a year. This was made a gala occasion. Such 
was the fear of finding something in a body not according to Galen, that, 
when Rabelais (1490-1553) went to Montpellier in 1530 to study, he 
declared that “God must be trembling with wrath at man’s audacity 
in dissecting a human being. ” Even Sylvius, the great teacher of 
anatomy in Paris, dared not controvert Galen ; and we have seen what 
happened to Servetus for daring to state hitherto unheard-of facts about 
the pulmonary circulation in contradiction to current theological beliefs. 

No medical faculty of the sixteenth century would defend any of 
its pupils against persecutions for heresy, although the Teutonic coun- 
tries were somewhat less severe in this respect than the Latin nations. 
For all that, Padua, which was under the protection of the Venetian 
Republic, was very liberal, the teaching at its university being upheld 
by public sentiment. It was therefore in this century the most popular of 
all the universities, especially with medical students. 1 Not only medical 
students but patients flocked to Padua from all over Europe as they had 
to Salerno in the twelfth century. At this time the universities of Italy, 
all sixteen coeducational, outnumbered those of all the rest of Europe 
put together. In England medical studies were not very popular, either 
in Oxford or Cambridge. In 1555. 108 students were graduated from 

1 Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 1895, VoL II, 
Part I, page 21. 

A Surgical Operation, 16th Century. 

Note the women assistants. (From a contemporary wood cut.) 


all the departments of Oxford, in 1566 only 54. Very few were medical 
students. To practice medicine in London a man had to have a license, 
which was only obtainable after eight years of study and the passing of 
an examination before the regents. 1 The result was that the apothe- 
caries, women, and quacks — all without licenses — had the bulk of the 
practice, both medical and surgical. A law had been passed in 15 11 
that the Bishop of London, or the Dean of St. Paul’s, might examine 
a medical candidate in the presence of four expert physicians, but a few 
years later this applied only to men who had studied at the special college 
founded by Linacre in his own house in 1518 for “doctors and grave 
men,” though probably not for priests. 2 It was still thought, however, 
that to have a priest for a doctor was convenient in case of death. 
Of a law in force about this time, restricting the legal practice of medi- 
cine by women, among the poor, Miss Lillian Ping says: “It was not 
that the poor were to be practiced upon in any wrong sense, only to 
give them a chance to be treated at all. It was felt that the law weighed 
heavily on those who practiced folk-medicine, so it was amended to give 
the poor a chance. It was entitled ‘An Acte that persones (being) no 
common surgeons maie mynistre medicins outwarde.’ They were 
enabled to cure outward sores by herbs, ointments etc., or stone, or ague 
by drinks, without being sued under the Act. In the following century 
the College of Physicians, then in Warwick Lane, built a dispensary for 
the relief of the sick poor.” 

There was unquestionably a pride and distinction in wearing an 
Oxford or Cambridge gown and hood, and the round cap of the 
medical men was as distinctive as the square cap of the masters of the 
humanities. At the Parisian universities Rashdall says every student 
wore a long black cloak or cape, and was tonsured. The stylish trunk 
hose, puffed sleeves, pointed shoes, and red or green boots of the period 
were considered “indecent, dishonest, and dissolute.” There were two 
students in medicine to every fourteen in theology. We need hardly 
be surprised to learn that women were not clamoring for admission. 
The text books were still the works of Rhazes the Persian, and of the 
Arabs, Haly Abbas and Avicenna, and of Avenzoar, whose work on 
the “Conservation of the Human Body” was by this time being printed 
in a small and handy pocket volume. Averroes, the exponent of Aris- 

1 Rashdall, op. eit., Vol. II, part II, pp. 455, 646, 637. 

2 Osier, William, “Essay on Thomas Linacre,” 1908. 



totle, was popular in all the universities of Europe; as were the Salerni- 
tans, Guy de Chauliac, Lanfranc and Saliceto. Nor was it difficult 
to obtain copies of those still older classics, Oribasius and Dioscorides. 
Of books on gynecology those of Cleopatra and Soranus, Rufus and 
Trotula, were being reprinted. 

Among newer medical books of interest to women were several 
written in part for them. There was the great work of Ambroise Pare, 
first printed in 1 550, which contained several chapters on obstetrics; 
and the " Fabrica ” of Vesalius printed in 1543, eagerly sought by women, 
surgeons and barbers. There were several on the whole art of mid- 
wifery, with illustrations. There was the Regensburger " Hebammen 
Biuh’ , 1555, and Roslin’s " Roscngarten ”, 1513, in German, and the 
English translation of the latter. Also Raynald’s “Byrthe of Man- 
kynde,” 1545, and the older, but often reprinted, books of John of 
Arderne and Bernard Gordon. Thomas Phaer’s ‘ Bokc of Children”, 
1545, on infant feeding, sore throat, bowel complaints and the itch, 
was as useful to women doctors as it was to university students. 
There was also a new German book on pediatrics by Felix Wiirtz 
(1518-1574), in which there is a special chapter for nurses, warning 
them not to scrub a baby’s mouth till it bleeds, and insisting on a pre- 
scribed diet for infants. For Italian medical women there was the 
new book of Scipio Mercurialis on obstetrics, published in 1572. For 
the French, Henri Estienne published a new book on general medicine 
in 1560, mostly culled from Hippocrates and Galen, but quoting some- 
what from Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus, thus introducing several 
modern suggestions of a rather psychological type. Last, but not least, 
tho not specially for women, were the refreshingly new denunciations 
of Galen by the explosive Paracelsus. 


TN the sixteenth century the average duration of life was eighteen 
years. Fully one-half the population of every country died under 
the age of twelve, and sixty percent of those died before their fifth year. 
There were, however, signs of progress in sanitation both in England 
and on the Continent. Wooden houses were being replaced by dwell- 
ings half-timbered and half-brick, or plaster, or stone. Glass windows 
were becoming popular; although Erasmus deplored them because they 
kept bad smells inside the house, such as came from ‘‘leakage of dogs 
and men, ale-droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit 

A 14th Century Hospital — Rothenburg, ob der Tauber. 

( This is the “Hegereiterha-uschen,” or house of the superintendent of the 

hospital. ) 


to be mentioned.” 1 More, in his “Utopia,” gives us an idea of the filthy 
streets of the London of his time, and his ideal city, with wide and 
-clean streets, “even twenty feet wide,” bordered with gardens, where 
all houses should have chimneys to carry the smoke away from the 
-eyes of the inhabitants, and garbage should not be dumped in the gutters. 

More himself occupied a beautiful house in London, the famous 
Crosby Hall, now the property of the Association of University 
Women, standing near the Thames in Chelsea, in the heart of the 
old city; it had long windows and a big fireplace in the hall, many bed- 
rooms, and every convenience of its day. Like other homes of the 
rich it was surrounded by a garden and orchard, protected by a high 
wall. Not only in England, but all over Europe, in this century, palaces 
were being built for comfort as well as for beauty, with elaborate 
staircases, audience chambers, dining rooms well supplied with silver 
and pewter and glass dishes, and private dressing rooms and elaborate 
bed-chambers, all filled with massive carved furniture. For the poor, 
of course, these luxuries were still unobtainable. 

As we have already noted, conditions were such as severely to 
restrict the number of physicians and surgeons who practiced among 
the poor. Yet there was never more need of doctors than in the six- 
teenth century. Plagues still swept through Europe as frequently as 
in the past. The sweating sickness appeared five times between i486 
and 1551, the epidemic of 1529 breaking out spontaneously in hundreds 
of localities at once. In England, the Black Death, which had carried 
off one-third of the inhabitants in 1478, reappeared in 1564, 1574, 
1578 and 1593, and often in the following century. 

William Bulleyn, a botanist-physician who died in 1576, having 
lived through the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth, has left us a descrip- 
tion of some of these epidemics, and the usual treatment 2 of their 
victims; and among the pictures punctiliously painted at this time are 
death-bed scenes, road-side agonies, lepers begging at the doors of hospi- 
tals, and victims of the plague being carted off for indiscriminate burial. 

1 Berdan, J. M., “Early Tudor Poetry”, 1920, p. 25. 

2 Sir Thomas Elyot’s (1490-1540) “Castel of Heith,” published in 1534 and six 
times reprinted, was written in English, much to the annoyance of the Oxford 
doctors of his time, both because he was not a physician and also because his 
book was in English. He was trying to teach the common people how to avoid 
the plague, and he said, “The Grekes wrote in Greke, the Romaines in Latine 
and Avicenna in Araibike.” Though his hook contained nothing new it was a 
good seller. Thomas Paynell re-translated the old “Regimen Sanitatis” of 
Salerno to try and teach better hygiene to everyone. Both of these men were 
typical of their period. 



lhcre are also lively interior scenes showing the birth of babies,, 
usually called poetically “The Birth of Mary” (or of Elizabeth or 
John or Jesus), in which, with entirely unconscious anachronism, the 
costumes and furniture of the period are shown. There are also out- 
door scenes showing promiscuous bathing in small pools, 1 and baptism 
and circumcision scenes which give opportunity to study child anatomy; 
and saints shown in agonies of torture made as frightful as possible, and 
pictures of the Inquisition showing the awful instruments which were 
universally used to inflict pain upon malefactors, heretics and witches. 

Such pictures are really tales in color; and by them these sixteenth 
century artists reveal the psychology of the period as well as the un- 
sanitary conditions of its life. Among the many representations of 
medical and surgical clinics there are several showing patients standing 
in large basins, having their legs scarified or their veins bled by women 
attendants. Other patients are writhing, firmly held, while their boils 
are being lanced, or fake stones removed from their foreheads, or teeth, 
extracted. I he surgeons, both men and women, are generally quite 
distinguishable from the nurses and servants. Some of the most amus- 
ing medical scenes are depicted in the open air in the midst of merry- 
makings on a village green ; others are of elaborate rooms such as 
would be appropriate for physicians’ offices. Privacy and signs of sani- 
tary conveniences are generally lacking, although there is no lack of 
homely attention to the immediate needs of the sufferers. The general 
lack of clinical accuracy in diagnosis is revealed by pictures purporting 
to represent examinations of patients; the latter are generally thorough- 
ly clad or, if they are in bed, are closely covered with blankets. Diag- 
nosis was still, as usual, merely the study of a flask of urine. 

The scientists seemed half afraid even to speculate on the causes 
of the epidemics of the time. Nevertheless, Fracastor (1484-1553),- 
published his new theories of the contagion of typhus fever, " Febris 
Ungarica,” in 1546. His idea was that contagion was due to a miasm, 
consisting of morbific “seeds” or ‘ seminaria," there being male and 
female seeds, or at least male seeds planted in female soil. Fracastor 

1 Garrison, p. 172, says that gonorrhea was so common in 1520 that many 
public baths were suppressed. 

“The Scientific Position of Girolamo Fracastoro, 1478 (?)-1553,” by Charles 
and Dorothea Singer. Annals of Medical History, vol. I, no. 1, 1917. This 
most valuable article has 163 references on contagion, from its first conception 
as a miasm carried lonp distances by air, or even conveyed by the glance of the 
sick person, to the theories evolved by Fracastor. 


is chiefly remembered not for his primitive germ theory, but for a long 
poem which he wrote on the ravages of syphilis. Several other doctors 
wrote short rhymed effusions on this same subject, the disease being 
almost universal in the sixteenth century. Massa (who died in 1569) 
called the disease by Fracastor’s title, "Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus 
Leonard Fuchs (d. in 1566), the botanist, thought of it as connected 
with plants; but Sir John Harrington (1561-1612), (whom Garrison 1 
calls the “witty, graceless godson of Queen Elizabeth”), believed, as 
did many other writers of the time, that the soldiers of Columbus had 
caught the disease from the Indians in America, and then had spread 
it through Europe by their loose living. He also translated the 
“ Regimen ” of Salerno, calling it “The Englishman’s Doctor, or the 
Schole of Salerne” (1609). It gave remedies for all contagious 

“Six things that here in order shall ensue 
Against all poysons have a secret power, 

Peare, Garlicke, Reddish-root, Nuts, Rape, and Rue, 

But Garlick‘s ehiefe; for they that it devoure 
May drinke and care not who their drinke do brew; 

May walke in aires infected every hour.” 

These books on syphilis reached many readers who took their 
teaching to heart; but at the same time itinerant quacks loudly adver- 
tised their own useless remedies. Then as now faith played its part in 
•cure. If a doctor boasted of the curative properties of the finger-bone of 
a saint, the patient was not curable until the bone was at her bedside. 
Erasmus laughed at the credulity of the sick, and said that there were 
enough fragments of the true cross in various churches of Europe 
“to make a loading for a large ship”. But this credulity was not con- 
fined to any one country or race. Cellini rushes off to Loreto on the 
east coast of Italy to beg the Virgin to save him from the plague, and 
the following year to Naples to beseech Saint Lucy to cure his attack 
of conjunctivitis, she being pleased with presents of glass eyes as thank 
offerings, and yet even then Paracelsus was using mercury successfully 
in the treatment of syphilis. 2 

1 Garrison, page 166. 

2 The ordinary physician was still cupping, blistering, bleeding, leeching, and 
puncturing his patients to “let out the poison”. Guy Patin bled an old man 
of eighty eleven times in six days, because he believed in taking blood “without 
remorse, without mercy, and without measure”. Cordamus and Pegelius in 
this century also practiced transfusions of blood from the veins of one person 
±0 another. It is not said what their mortality was. 


34 - 


T N view of the practical knowledge of medicine and sanitary science 

shown by several European queens, it is rather humiliating to find 
those of England paying more attention to the religious quarrels in their 
domains — and to flirtations. The amorous Henry VIII had studied 
pharmacy and often mixed medicines in his own laboratory as a pastime 
between his six love affairs; but his medical knowledge did not extend 
to obstetrics. His Queen Catherine in eight pregnancies had only one 
living child. Anne Boleyn had but one living child, the future queen 
Elizabeth, and two miscarriages. Jane Seymour died of fever soon after 
her son, Edward VI, was born. He died at the age of 16. Queen Mary, 
Catherine’s daughter, was more concerned with her o\\ n health and the 
combating of heresy than the health of her people. Queen Elizabeth, 
who had been sickly from her eleventh year, had to submit to so many 
bleedings and purgings that it is a wonder that she lived to reign at all. 
Elizabeth was, perhaps, the most thoroughly educated woman of her age. 
She spoke several languages, and wrote Latin and Greek easily. She 
had dabbled in medicine, preferring to prescribe for herself. She 
believed and upheld her adviser, Dr. Dec, in all his predictions from the 
stars, and also surrounded herself with medical men and astrologers 
from the Continent. 1 She believed in taking enormous doses of medi- 
cine, and in being copiously bled for all indispositions, whether suffering 
from anemia or jaundice or ulcers of the leg. Sir Arthur Keith tells us 
that her apothecary bill was "tremendous ”; but for all that she refused 
many of the more disgusting remedies of her age. He doubts if she had 
inherited syphilis from her father, as many people hinted; but she may 
have had anemia, a poor stomach and liver, a chronic leg ulcer, septic 
teeth, rheumatism, possibly angina pectoris, and a very unstable nervous 
organization!- She encouraged scientific investigations, permitting the 

1 In 1559 a copv of the "Fab rim" of Vesnlius was presented to Queen Eliza- 
beth. It contains her own portrait. 

“The Private Character of Queen Elizabeth”, Frederick Chamberlin, 1922, 
p. 93. An interesting episode is indicative of Elizabeth’s attitude toward 
women doctors. A skilful herbalist named Margaret Kenwix was practicing 
in London without a license; the College of Physicians wished to have her 
punished. Elizabeth upheld the woman and over-ruled the College, much to 
their anger. On the other hand, on three other occasions, the physicians had 
their wav. Herbalists, and irregular practitioners, were allowed to practice 
if thev could obtain a license from their Bishop; they could then hang out 
banners or signs at their own houses, and usually had many patients. 1 hey 
prescribed and sold herbs, gave medicated baths, and applied plasters. Certain' 
entire families, like the Colots, were famous for their lithotomy operations, - 
while other surgeons were known as bone-setters or “vouchers for cataract 
There was no law whatever against practicing medicine as a charity. 


College to dissect human subjects (four felons a year) ; and, like her 
father, had especially studied poisons, their symptoms and antidotes. 1 
For many years her private physician was a Portuguese Jew named Dr. 
Lopez. He was killed for treason in 1594. 

In view of the medical interests of Queen Elizabeth it is not sur- 
prising that other women of the aristocracy were to be found who had 
studied the medical books of the time, and were happy to be of service 
to the sick. The three daughters of Sir Thomas More “were educated 
in physic and in the Scriptures.” One of them was the famous scholar, 
Margaret Roper, 2 her father’s companion in many of his undertakings; 
and her teachers, Erasmus and Pole, said that she was one of the best 
scholars they had ever known. In Canterbury, her husband’s home, she 
was revered for her knowledge of medicine and her sympathy and skill 
in sickness. 3 The fame of the four daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke 
spread all over Europe. One of them, who became the mother of Sir 
Francis Bacon, “was skilled in medicine” and “cared tenderly for the 
poor and sick wherever she found them.” Lady Burleigh, another of 
the Cooke sisters, is said to have astonished her husband with her ability 
in treating the poor and sick. Another Cooke sister became the mother 
in law of the famous Sir Thomas Hoby, whose wife, as we shall see later, 
was an army surgeon. 

The private diary of Lady Anne Clifford, born in 1590 and married 
to Richard Sackville at the age of nineteen, mentions that her mother 
“was a lover of the study of medicine and the practice of Alchimy. She 
prepared excellent medicines that did much good to many; she delighted 
in distilling waters and getting chymical reactions with her extracts.” 
Lady Anne, during her second widowhood, recalled many of her mother's 
prescriptions, and used them with the sick among the servants of the 
castles and villages that formed the family estates. 

Grace Sherrington (1552-1620), a relative of the Cliffords, married 
at the age of fifteen to Sir Anthony Mildmay, already had a “good 
knowledge of physick and surgerie as well as household arts.” She writes 
that she spent her time in music, prayers, studying the “Herballs” and 
“books of physick,” and in “ministering to one or other by the direction 
of the best phisitions of myne acquaintance ; and even God gave a bless- 
ing thereunto.” Years later this Lady Mildmay’s daughter wrote in her 

1 “Shakespeare's England.” A. G. Doran, 1916. 

2 Kavanagh, Julia, “The Women of Christianity,” 1852. 

3 Cf. Tennyson’s “Dream of Fair Women.” Margaret Roper died in 1544,, 
and is buried in Chelsea. 



diary that her mother spent a great part of her days “in the search and 
practice of man’s body-drugs, preparation of medicines and studying the 
signs of disease.” Lady Mildmay’s portrait, painted in 1613, shows her 
holding a prayer-book, with an open book on simples and two retorts and 
stills on a table beside her. Her epitaph in Apelthorpe Church describes 
her at length as “virtuous in every way, charitably helpful with 

Among the private diaries of the sixteenth century that of Lady 
Hoby is the most explicit in its medical details. 1 Born in 1571, she was 
taught to read and write, play the alpharion, manage a household, do 
surgery, compound salves, etc. She was a strong Puritan, loved long 
sermons and believed in deep introspection. By the time she was twenty- 
five years old she had been married for the third time, and had charge 
of a large estate upon which were four mills, two hundred houses, a 
rectory and church, etc. Her third husband was Sir Thomas Post- 
humous Hoby, the son of Elizabeth Cooke, one of the famous literary 
daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke. He was a great traveler; had lived 
in Italy as representative of the English Queen, and had translated 
Castiglione’s “Courtyer ” into English. A few extracts from Lady Hoby’s 
diary, beginning Feb. 4, 1599, gives us an insight into her busy life. She 
says: “At five o’cloke I dressed my patientes and then returned to pri- 
vate prayer.” Feb. 5. “After private praers I went to dresse my patientes 
and did eate my breakfast. This was her usual morning program, and 
frequently she “dressed her patientes” twice a day. Feb. 10. “The 
Lord’s day, dressed patients after church in the morning, and after the 
sermon dressed the other poore folkes.” She often wrote sermons her- 
self, prayed in private and in public, and talked “with religious zealots.” 
At another date she says: “After I had praied privately I dressed a poore 
boies legge that came to me, and then brake my fast with Mr. Hoby; 
after, I dressed the hand of one of our servants that was verie sore cutt. 
After that I dressed one of the mens handes that was hurt, lastly praied, 
and so to bed.” Jan. 4, 1602, she writes: “I was sent for to Trutsdcll 
to the travill of my cousine Jasons Wiffe, who that morninge was 
brought to bed of a daughter.” On July 26, 1601, she says: “I had a 
child brought to see that was borne at Silpho. . .that had no fundament 
[anal opening], and no passage for excrementes but att the mouth; I 
was earnestly entreated to Cutt the place to se if any passage Could be 
made, but, although I Cutt deepe and searched, there was none to be 


“The Diary of Lady Hoby”, edited by Dorothy M. Meads, 1930. 


found.” Obviously Lady Hoby was a daring surgeon thus to operate 
on a newly born baby. As she had exciting experiences in the army of 
James I, her story will be returned to later. 

Elizabeth, the Countess of Kent, was another woman of the period 
noted for her medical and obstetrical skill. She wrote and published 
a medical book, “A Choice Manual, or Rare Secrets in Physic and 
Surgery”, which became quite popular. Undoubtedly not all the women 
who practiced medicine were as expert as these. In Robert's “History 
of the Southern Counties” is the following note: Lyme in 1569 had no 
medical practitioner, and even fifty years later there is not yet a man 
doctor in the town,” but there is a record that “a female practitioner 
deformed Sir Symonds D’Eures when he was brought into the world.” 
A little later we find that this child was placed under the care of a 
“female practitioner” of Dorchester, Mrs. Margaret Waltham. 

It is possible that medical women of England were as a whole less 
well educated than were those of France and Italy. It was out of the 
question for women, even those of the nobility, to attend lectures at 
Oxford or Cambridge; and to take private lessons from noted university 
medical men was uncommon as well as expensive. Nor was it only a 
question of women. Rashdall 1 says that in England medicine in the 
sixteenth century was “beneath contempt,” the doctors caring only for 
venesections; 2 and that in general the conditions of life were abominable. 
Women laced their bodies so tightly that it was almost impossible for 
them to breathe or digest their food. They ate a highly spiced and ill- 
balanced diet, had very poor teeth, as black as Queen Elizabeth’s, and 
limited their exercise practically to occasional horseback riding. 

In a contemporary poem by Samuel Rowlands, printed in 1617,. 
the bride says: 

“In wit to men we are inferior far, 

For arts of learning and Ingenious things, 

No rare inventions in our hraynes there are. 

That public profit to a kingdom brings. 

’Tis they that must all callings execute, 

And wee of all their labours reape the fruite. 

Let not wife’s boldness power unto her take, 

For she that thus hath oare in husband’s boate, 
Let her take breech, and give him petti-eoate.” 

1 Rashdall, Hastings, “The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages”, 1895,. 
vol. II, p. 712. 

2 See letter by Sir Clifford Albutt in “The Private Character of Queen Eliza- 
beth”, by Frederick Chamlberlin, 1922, p. 81. 



But, on the other hand, such an observant writer as Shakespeare 
refers casually to women doctors as though they were not at all unusual 
in England in his day. In “All’s Well That Ends Well”, (Act II, 
Sc. I), Lafeu says of Helena’s medicine: 

I have seen a medicine 

Thats able to breathe life into a stone. 

Quicken a rock, and make you dance canarv 
With spritely fire and motion .... 

King: What “Iter” is this? 

Lafeu : Why, Doctor She: my lord, there’s one arrived. 

If you will see her 

I have sjKtke 

With one that, in her sex. Iter years, profession, 

Wisdom and constancy, hath amazed me more 
Than I dare blame my weakness. 

And later Helena tells Lafeu ( 1 . 104) : 

Gerard dc Xarbon fa physician] was my father; 

In what he did profess, well found. 

And she adds that her father on his death bed gave her all his prescrip- 
tions, and that one of them is exactly what the King needs. The King, 
however, feels that, since the most learned doctors and the congregated 
college can not “ransom nature", it is foolish to rely upon her empirics. 
She replies that her remedy is worth a trial, and can do no harm, for — 

He that of greatest works is finisher, 

Oft docs them by the weakest minister. (lines 139-1 VO) 

And finally the King does take her remedy, saying — 

Sweet practiser, thy physic I will try. (1. 188) 

Shakespeare’s “Helena”, this daughter of a poor but well educated phy- 
sician, is considered by many his finest female character. “The noble 
mixture of spirited firmness and womanly modesty, fine sense and true 

humility are worked out with the tenderest partiality.” 

In “Twelfth Night” (Act III, Sc. IV) Fabian, believing that 
Malvolio is insane, says, “Carry his water to the wise woman” (i.e. for 
examination). Brandes says that several passages in this play are prob- 
ably taken from Shakespeare’s personal experience. 

Shakespeare’s knowledge of plants and medicines is seen in many of 
his plays. He evidently had heard all the stories of the mandrake, of 
poison drinks, and knew of the value of common herbs as used by the 
women in the country. He gives a list of some of these in “Romeo and 
Juliet” (Act IV, Sc. Ill), when the nurse gives Juliet the Friar’s 
sleeping draught, and in “Othello” (Act III, Sc. Ill), when Iago 

century reprinted in Toilet’s “Les Edifices Hospitallers: 


names the soothing remedies that will not put Othello to sleep, because 
Desdemona has bound her bewitched handkerchief around his aching 

Shakespeare’s son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, was a “rnedicus peritissi- 
mus," though not a university graduate or a surgeon. In mentioning 
plague, malaria, rheumatism, gout, catarrh, palsy, paralysis, hysteria, 
whitlow, boils, carbuncles, and the fifteen different diseases in “Troilus 
and Cressida,” the poet quite unostentatiously gives us a picture of the 
medical knowledge of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. 


A LTHOUGH the condition of medical women in France in the 

sixteenth century was worse than ever, they were still allowed to 
attend confinement cases, to give gratuitous attention to charity patients, 
and to nurse their own families. 

\ et here, as in England, there were notable exceptions to this 
generalization. Felix Plater tells us that, when he was a student at 
Montpellier, in 1550, women “assisted at' dissections even when the 
cadaver was a man.” 1 And there were, as in the centuries preceding, 
well educated women in royal circles ; and wandering scholars continued 
to visit the great castles, bringing news of the latest discoveries in science, 
astrology, and alchemy. Renee of France, daughter of Anne of Brittany 
and Louis XII, was said to have been as learned as any man of her 
time. Marguerite of Angouleme, sister of Francis I, was able to 
;speak as many languages as Queen Elizabeth, and Hebrew in addition; 
while her mother, Louise of Savoy, was not only thoroughly edu- 
cated in literary subjects, but in politics and medicine as well. Catherine 
de’ Medici was said to have become quite skilful as a physician; although 
Pare blamed her severely for not permitting him to trephine her son, 
Marie Stuart’s young husband, when the operation might have given 
him a chance to live. Diana of Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II, 
brilliant, beautiful, learned and rich, accumulated a collection of paint- 
ings and books that were the envy of her friends, among them four 
important medical books by contemporary writers, evidently authors’ 
gifts: Charles Estienne on dissection, 1546; Ambroise Pare on the treat- 
ment of wounds, 1551; Thierry de Hery, on venereal diseases; and 

1 Plater, Felix, “Memoires”, 1566, pp. 53, 54. 



Sylvius, the anatomist, on diseases of women, 1536. The last contained 
a dedication to herself. 1 

Perhaps the most important queen of this century from a medical 
point of view was a German, Sophia of Mechlenburg, the mother of the 
famous Christian IV of Norway and Denmark. 2 3 She was well edu- 
cated in all the arts and sciences, including medicine; and, when her 
husband died, Sophia, with four councillors, was appointed Regent for 
her young son. Tradition says that when her son was born she threw 
custom to the winds and refused to allow others than her midwife, nurse, 
and her husband in the room ; but she did not quite dare to forbid his 
eating the pulverized hind leg of a hare, perhaps to shorten her pains. 
Through her regency her influence was paramount all over Lutheran 
Scandinavia and among the northern provinces of Germany. 

With four councillors to share her problems of state, she found 
time to nurse her baby, and give special attention to the sanitation of 
her kingdom. It was as rare for noble women of the northern countries 
to nurse their babies as to make reforms in hygiene; and, as women then 
were expected to have a child each year, the graveyards were full of 
coffins of mothers and of still-born infants and wrongly fed babies.. 
Sophia tried to change these customs, taught birth-control and maternal 
nursing, and compelled the midwives to study their art so carefully that 
from her day to this the midwives of Scandinavia have led the world in 
the prevention of maternal and infant mortality. 

Many other sanitary reforms were initiated by this royal mother. 
She advocated the opening of bedroom windows at night, at a time when 
windows were seldom opened except to throw out slops or rubbish. All 
over Europe illegitimate babies were strangled or drowned and thrown 
to the scavengers: as far as she could Sophia fought the practice. Her 
people were taught to bathe their bodies frequently, and to kill the lice 
in their hair with lye and hot butter, not merely to comb them out.. 
Young people were not to drink beer or wine. A well person was not 
to sleep with a sick one. Fur clothing that had been in a house where 
there was a contagious disease was to be fumigated over steaming hot 
cow dung and then sprayed with perfumery. Burial laws were made 
more strict, and the bodies of those who had died of the plague were 

1 Bauchart, Ernest Quentin, “Les Femmes Bibliophiles de France, XVT r 
XVII, XVIII Siicles”, 1886, vol. I, pp. 79, 171. Lipinska, pp. 184-185. R. H. J. 

Scoutetten, " Histoire des Femmes Medecins,” 1868. I.eroux de Lincy* 
"M < moire sur I’education des femmes au moyen age’’, 1808. Boileau, E., “Le 
Livre des Metiers,” Chap. XCVI, Art. 4. 

3 Gade, John A., “Christian IV of Denmark and Norway,” 1928. 


to be destroyed. Through the influence of this sanitary pioneer, public 
and private hygiene slowly but surely went forward, not only in Scan- 
.dinavia but all over Europe. 

Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), daughter of Maximilian I, 
-who was appointed Regent in the Netherlands to care for all her orphan 
nieces and nephews, is said to have superintended the daily hygiene of 
all the children even to their baths and their medicines when they were 
sick. Her own baby had been born dead after a labor of “twelve days/' 1 
and her chief lament was that she had no more children of her own. 
To her court Anne Boleyn, the future mother of Queen Elizabeth of 
England, had been sent as a girl of seven to learn manners and “all 
science and religion,” and the story goes that Margaret superintended 
her medicated baths, personally mixing all sorts of herbs in the steaming 
water, — hollyhocks, pellitory or pyrethrum, fennel, onion, camomile, 
plantain, water-cresses, veronica, elder, avens, soap-wort, gilly-flowers, 
daisies, wild-parsley, and scabiosa. Margaret died in 1530 in Ghent 
from an infection in the foot, having accidentally cut her heel with a piece 
of glass. When the foot had become gangrenous, the surgeon gave her 
such a large dose of opium before amputating it that she never awoke. 2 

During the Renaissance a few Italian women were more keen for 
study than ever before. Among them were certain women noted for 
their medical skill. Cassandra Fedele, 3 often called “the angel of 
Venice”, was still alive early in this century and at the head ot the 
Dominican hospital there. She also taught at the university of Padua, 
where she held a “whole settee”, theology, philosophy, music, and medi- 
cine; but her main work was for “fallen women”, for whom she pro- 
vided dowries and self-supporting occupations. Another medical woman 
of Venice was Isabella Cortese, died 1561 (Harless, p. 180), who wrote 
books on chemistry and alchemy as well as on medicine. One was 
entitled, "Secreti medicinali artificiosi ed alchemici” , published in Venice, 
1561-1565. Schacher says this work was translated into German and 
published in Hamburg in 1565-1 592. 4 

1 Quoted from Le Maire, Jean, “Couronne Margarite, The First Governess 
of the Netherlands”, p. 27. Also see “Margaret of Austria”, by Eleanor 
Tremavne, 1908. 

2 Taine told a friend that the Dutchmen of the Renaissance were stiff, frigid, 
with no sensibility or sentiment, dull, insipid, “perfect turnips, Sir, perfect 
turnips.” They had, however, wisdom and contentment, unlike the Italians, 
who were not happy unless they were sinning. They gave us the microscope 
and some of our greatest anatomists. In the pictures by Dutch painters 
their physicians are always well dressed and dignified. 

3 Kavanagh, page 145. 

4 “Secrets” dealt with both medicine and cosmetics, and was published in 
Venice when its prosperity was only slightly past its height, when Titian and 
Tintoretto were still painting the portraits of its most beautiful women. 



Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), daughter of Pope Alexander VI r 
had the distinction of having a book, on gynecology dedicated to her. Her 
life is an epitome of her age. Married at the age of thirteen to the lord 
of Pesaro, and having no children during four years of marriage, she 
was next married to Alonzo of Aragon, a Spaniard, by whom she had 
one son. He was killed by her brother two years later. She was again 
married at the age of twenty-one to Alfonso D’Este, Duke of Ferrara, 
by whom she had four children. 1 She was clever and well educated, and 
knew most ot the scholars, scientists, poets, and artists of her time. 
The gynecology above mentioned was by Ludovicus Bonacioli, and was 
titled " Enneas Mu/irbris, Ad Lucrctiam Estcnscm Borgiam, Ferrariae 
augustissimam ducissarn” . It professed to answer the what, why, how, 
and when, that she and her friends wished to know about the physiology 
of sex, generation, the causes of anatomical anomalies, the cure of 
menstrual pain, the ways of hastening labor, the prevention of the death 
of the fetus, the care of children, and the prevention of sterility. The 
author said that he had consulted all previous medical books for the 
sake of making his duchess an expert in such medical matters. It con- 
tained, however, no allusions to difficult or abnormal labor, no illustra- 
tions, no condemnation of old bad methods of treatment. For all that 
it was interesting, and of some use to mothers. 2 

The thirteenth century “Regimen Sanilalis” of Salerno was still 
being recited by the Italians, for its rhymes were easy to remember; and 
Frascator’s poem on syphilis, printed in 1546, was popular in learned 
circles. Artists and sculptors were picturing death-bed scenes. Mothers 
were being delivered either on their backs with their hips elevated, or 
on the old Hippocratic stool, the midwife resorting to all sorts of tug- 
ging and pulling before calling the surgeon with his long hooks and 
barbaric tongs. If a baby survived its birth, it was as a rule put out to 
be nursed by some professional wet-nurse. This added to the high infant 
mortality, “so high,” says Froude, “that the population was fairly 
stationary because of wars, pestilences and these infant deaths.” Un- 
fortunately, the books of the day for midwives, though numerous and 

1 I.ucrezia died in childbed with the fourth baby. 

s Bonaeiolus, Ludovicus, “Enneas Muliebris, ml Lurretiam . . . Ferrarine Du- 
rissnm De uteri partiumque eitis ron.eertione . . . Qua multa vnri/ique tie con- 
reptione, uteri pestatione. nbnrtu, pnrtu , obstetriratu, puerperio, nutrirum & 
in fan tin m rum, rilie/. huiusmndi copiose & erudite differuntur. Alin el in rn 
quaednm obiter phi/sica, medica, & philolopn, id est , jiuyundn copnitu eon- 
linentur.” First published in 1502, and frequently thereafter by Wollf, 
Spach, etc. 


good sellers, did not help much in reducing this mortality. Whenever 
the plague broke out all the wealthy rushed to the hills to live until 
danger was over, for there was no effective isolation of patients except 
to shut them up in their homes until the entire family lay dead within. 
The only preventive used was to bathe one’s body in vinegar, breathe 
aromatic herbs, lay a falcon’s feather upon the first bubo or over the 
heart, and then resort to prayer. In 1522 there was ?. serious outbreak 
of the plague in Rome. To stop its ravages a bull was sacrificed in the 
Coliseum, after which priests and choristers paraded the streets carrying 
images of the Virgin and crucifixes. Little children, bare to the waist,, 
walked in the procession for hours beating their breasts and begging 
God to spare them. Syphilis and small pox and scrofula were also 

In Tasso’s “ Gerusalemme Llberata,” which dates from this century, 
occurs another instance of a woman doctor curing the hero. Erminia, 
the heroine, cures Tancred with remedies wdiich she had raised in her 
own garden or had bought for the purpose, having learned from her 
mother how to use all kinds of herbs for healing wounds and quieting 
pain. 1 

67. E pero eh’ella de la madre apprese, 

Qual pii'i secreta sia virtu de l'erbe 

E eon quai carmi ne le membra offese 
Sani ogni piaga, e il duol si disacerbe, 

(Arte che per usanza in qual paese 
Ne le figlie de i re par che si serbe), 

Yorria di sua man propria a le ferute 
Del suo earo signor reear salute. 

68. Ella l’amato medicar desia: 

E eurar il nemico a lei eonviene: 

Brama ella al men ehe in uso tal sia vota 
Di sua virtude ogni erba ed ogni nota. 

69. Si che per l’uso la feminea mente 
Sovra la sua natura e fatta ardita; 

E di leggier non si conturba o pave 
Ad ogni immagin di terror men grave. 

Medical women were not rare in Spain and Portugal during the 
sixteenth century, for women doctors were appointed by the government 
of various Spanish cities to examine prostitutes. They were trained 
especially for this work, since it was at a time when the wealth of the 
Indies was pouring into the Peninsula, with all the profligacy that ac- 
companied it. 

1 Tasso (1544-1595) Gerusalemme Liberate, Canto VI, 67, 68, 69. 



There were a good many famous women professors at the universi- 
ties, the most important of whom were Beatriz Galindo of Spain at the 
beginning ot the century, and Oliva Sabuco of Portugal at its end. 
3 t.t, among others worthy of mention, were Isabella Losa of Cordova 

Aloys, a Sigea of Toledo, and Juliana Morelia, a graduate of the uni- 
versity ot Avignon. 

Beatriz Galindo ( 1473 - 1535 ) has been alreadv mentioned in our 
discussion of the fifteenth century. Her picture in the " Diccionario 
' «nu al Enactopcthco de la Lengua Espanola” (1909) shows a cheerful 
and highly intelligent face in the costume of a nun. 1 

Isabella Losa had the distinction of being a doctor of theology as 
well as of medicine. Frangoise, daughter of Antoine de Lebrix was 
another women equally learned, in fact she often substituted for her 
father in his chair at the university of Alcala. Of Alovsia Sigea we 
know that she taught Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, in ad- 
dition to doing medical work at the court of Portugal. She is said to 
have written “several works.” (Lipinska, p. 159) 

The most important of all these women, however, was Oliva Sabuco 
Barrera, born in Alcarez near Toledo, in 1562. Her father was proba- 

y a cloctor - ;Ve do not know where she was educated; but we do 
know that she wrote an important book on the nature of man, a 
philosophical discussion of the functions of the human bodv, and the 
effect on men and on animals of pain, fear, and other mental states. 2 
This book was twice printed in Spain in 1587-1588, but as its contents 
brought down on its author the wrath of the Inquisitors, all copies of 
Jt were destroyed-save two copies, with many erasures, which escaped. 
Naturally these persecutions seriously interfered with the author’s further 
work. 1 his first book was, however, republished freelv in the seven- 
teenth century. The first volume is in Spanish. It considers man in 
h,s relation to the world, his health, his old age, and certain political 
and social reforms. The second is in Latin, and is in the form of a 
wide-ranging dialogue between two shepherds, one of whom quotes free- 
ly from Hippocrates, Galen, Plato, and Pliny. They talk of the effect 
of the passions and emotions on the health, of the possibility of the 
existence of souls in plants and animals, of man’s remorse for sins and 

1 £ee Lipinska, page 15S. Also Hashtlall, vol. IT, page 79. 

In fle h ' !' n,nrn,e '~ n ,hl hombre, no conocido ni alcanzada de 

lirft ” /a 7«ef mejora la rub, y salud Humana . . 

zz^7:'Ai^:y ,,r mna oiivn Sahur ° de Nante * Barr ** * 


his hope of a future life, of the sicknesses which he suffers as the result 
of chagrin, fear, suspicion, etc. They discuss the plague, and decide 
that it must be something which is air-borne to the brain, that the brain 
tries to get rid of it, but, that in so doing, the system loses too much 
water and heat, death resulting from this destruction of the harmony of 
the bodily functions. They call this air-borne something a poison, which 
must be fought with other poisons; and they think that possibly, if the 
veins to the brain should be ligated, the miasm might be prevented from 
reaching it. They also discuss maternal impressions, and the effect on 
the brain of music, sleep, monotony, the moon and the sun. Finally, 
Sabuco in her own person prescribes safe and sane diets for pregnant 
women, and for children. She says that the brain and nerves must be 
kept moist and well nourished. Many of her psychological theories 
were much too advanced for the Church in the sixteenth century. 


JN earlier centuries, as we have seen, many women were attracted to 
monasticism as a refuge from the woes of the world. In England, 
however, by the sixteenth century, the convents and monasteries had 
either become dissolute and poverty-stricken, and so ripe for oblivion, 
or else so rich and enviable as to invite confiscation by the Crown. 
Perhaps the whole history of the Reformation would have been different 
if Henry’s queen, Catherine of Aragon, had presented him with sons 
rather than with one sickly daughter and several still-born babies. His 
resentment against the Pope because of the difficulty he had had in 
gaining his divorce from her made it easy for him, when at last he 
married the gay young Protestant, Anne Boleyn, to consent to the dis- 
solution of the convents and monasteries of his kingdom. He turned 
the rich revenues which they had been sending to Rome into his own 
coffers or into those of his friends. 

Few of these religious institutions were spared. The Convent of 
Saint Bridget at Islesworth on the Thames was richer and more prosper- 
ous than most of the others; and, although its inmates went to Holland 
during the confiscations under Henry, they returned under Mary to find 
their estates intact. Later these nuns were obliged to move to Portugal ; 
but long afterwards they returned to Devonshire, where they now live. 
Their “Infirmaria,” or head of their hospital, taught the younger nuns 
whatever of medical knowledge she thought best for the care and comfort 



of the sick. She herself visited their patients every day, prescribed and 
sometimes administered their medicines, and saw that they were clean 
and warm and properly tended. 

Erasmus (who died in 1536) complained with some sadness that 
the nuns of his day lacked earnestness of purpose; he urged them to 
follow the teachings of Christ by doing kindly acts rather than to quibble 
over doctrinal points. He tells married women to love their husbands, 
to have children, and to be generous to the poor and sick. On the other 
hand. Furnivall quotes from the Douce Ms. (365, 1. 95). “The Abbaies 
went doune because of there pride, and made the more covetus riche for 
a tyme.” Of the one hundred and thirty convents and monasteries in 
England at the beginning of the sixteenth century, only fifteen escaped 
dissolution during the reign of Henry \ III. and they chiefly by paying 
large sums of money. Agnes Litherland was, however, reprieved with 
her convent, because to it belonged the girdle and part of the tunic of 
Saint Francis, which were of great use to women in labor. 

On the Continent, during these troublous times, we find few records 
of religious or monastic women, except in Germany, where there were 
thriving convents which became as important under the Reformation as 
under the Church of Rome. One of the most famous of all the German 
abbesses was Charifas Pirckheimer 1 who lived at the convent of Santa 
Clara in Nuremberg, 1524-28. Fortunately, she wrote her memoirs 
during the stormy period following the Lutheran agitation. A bitter 
foe of Luther, she was one of a large organization of Poor Clares, so 
influential politically as to render themselves immune from punishment. 
Her sisters, Clara, Walpurg, Katherine, Sabina, and Euphcmia, were 
all members of the Order. Their brother, Willibald, 2 the humanist 
who died in 1 5 30, was a noted writer. They were friends of Diirer, 
whose house was across the street from their home. Erasmus knew 
them well, and said that in Europe or England there was only one family 
so learned and kind as this, referring, of course, to the family of Sir 
Thomas More and the charitable works of his daughters. The letters 
of these good Pirckheimers all show how difficult it was for them to 
sec any religion at all in the new reforms, and, having vowed to follow 
Saint Clara and Saint Francis, they found it hard to carry on their 
schools under Lutheranism, although Luther and his friends were dis- 

’ Kckenstein, p. 458. 

3 Willibald Pirkheimer (1470-1530), t he humanist, had a pair of spectacles 
said to be the oldest in existence. They consisted of two large circular lenses 
connected bv a nose bridge. They are now in '.be Nuremberg Museum. 



tinctly in favor of the higher education of women. The heroism of 
these nuns was far greater than that of the monks who easily resigned 
themselves to their fate without compunctions of conscience. It is 
probable, however, that under the old institutions women would have 
been much longer in raising their standards of education than under the 
later foundations. There could have been little freedom and initiative 
in thought and action when women were kept within four walls and 
subject to strict routine, day and night. 

The most far-reaching influence of any Spanish medical woman of 
the sixteenth century was probably exerted by a nun, the founder of the 
Carmelite Order, Santa Teresa de Jesus. She was born, in 1515, in 
the old walled town of Avila among the mountains of central Spain, as 
picturesque a town as any in Europe. It has many gates, and eighty or 
more towers of the eleventh century, all standing — 1936! Near one 
of the gates is the house in which Saint Teresa lived for sixty-seven 
years “conquering self, overcoming all obstacles, accomplishing all good 
works, and even defying time.” Her “visions” were published about 
the time of her death in 1582 under the titles “The Way of Perfection,” 
and “The Castle of the Soul,” and had a wide sale. She studied 
earnestly how best to care for the sick to whom she was so devoted, 
“ever utterly unmindful of her own comfort.” There are now five 
hundred Carmelite convents and monasteries, known as the “White 
Nuns,” and “White Friars,” which follow her ideals. 


HERE is no doubt that, generally speaking, the women doctors of 

the sixteenth century made as little attempt as the men to rise 
above a dead level of mediocrity. If there were exceptions, it was in 
the field of obstetrics, where women showed, as usual, the greater inter- 
est and efficiency. The more far-sighted men physicians encouraged and 
aided their efforts. Andrew Boorde, a famous physician of the time, 
enlarged upon the miseries women suffered at the hands of incompetent 
midwives, and urged the bishop to be careful in licensing insufficiently 
trained applicants. He had himself had a peripatetic medical career, 
and probably knew little of practical obstetrics, but even that little would 
have been difficult to glean from his ancient “Woman’s Book,” in its 
fine print. Its contents were in the main copied from Soranus through 
Moschion, fourteen hundred years old, full of the same crude details 



for removing a dead infant, piecemeal, by hooks, along with some little 
advice as to versions and other operations. 1 

However meagre .heir knowledge by our standard*, i, is pr „ b able 
ha. the midwives of ,he period were better educated for practical ob- 
stetrical work than any of their men colleagues. The most skilful mid- 
«,vcs were well paid. Margaret Cobbe, midwife ,0 Elizabeth VV„„d- 
M e, the wife of Edward IV', received ten pounds a year (1470) for her 
servees at a time when a penny was considered quite worth earning. 
Elizabeth Gaynsford, another royal accoucheuse, received ten shillings 
tor baptizing a baby before its birth, although the efficacy of the ac, was 
seriously questioned. Alice -Massey, who in ,503 attended Elizabeth of 

, V ":" C Hcnrv VI1 ' for "tan; of the earl, Tudors. 

Unfortunately none of these women left records of their obstetric work 

During the reign of Henry VIII Johanna Hamulden was mid- 
1 te-rot al. \V e have already noted that his first wife, Catherine, had 
one miscarriage after another, six in all, and three babies who died in 
earliest infancy. Mary, her only living child, was sickly. Queen 
Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's child, had many undiagnosed maladies, as we 
have seen Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife, died of puerperal fever 
shortly after the birth of her baby, Edward VI. and he lived only 
sixteen years. Catherine Parr. Henry's sixth wife, and widow, died of 
puerperal fever after the birth of a baby, the fruit of a later marriage. 
Queen Mary, Catherine's daughter, died childless at the age of forty- 
tuo, probably of a malignancy of the ovaries. If these were typical of 
the obstetrical happenings among the royal families of the day, what 
were conditions among the general population? 

The most noted of the French obstetricians of the sixteenth century 
was Louyse Bourgeois, friend and pupil of Ambroise Pare, and nrmu- 
r 'tense of the Queen. Her book, on midwifery published between 1608 
and 16,3, will be taken up later: here we may allude to her work— a 
specimen ot that of the best obstetricians of her age. She was born just 
outMde of Pans in 1503, was married young, and had three children 
before she was twenty-four years old. After the death of her husband 
realizing that lace-making was not sufficiently lucrative to support her 
fam ' ly ’ She tUrned t0 the who had attended her in her own 

x ,8, r 6 ' "■ t 310 ' 

h, 1 u ' ks ’ excn ' ment nn(l * ,u mt blood than with the odor of roseT^ Th/' 

m'u ^ i,s 



labors and begged to be taught the art. Soon, by diligent study of recent 
books on midwifery, and the personal teaching of Pare and several other 
physicians, she acquired great skill. 

M any other women in France at this time were practicing medicine 
and obstetrics as a charity. Among them was Mme. de Chantal 1 (born 
in 1572), the daughter of President Fremiot of the Burgundian parlia- 
ment, and the wife of one of Henry IV’s officers, Baron de Chantal. 
At the age of 28, a widow with four children, she went, with her little 

family, to live on the es- 
tate of her father-in-law 
near Dijon. Here she 
had opportunity to study 
medicine, and to practice 
it among the dependents 
of the great farm. She 
was careful to burn the 
soiled rags of the lepers, 
as well as all the infected 
dressings from ulcers and 
cancers. When her friend, 
the Bishop of Geneva, 
Francis de Sales, remon- 
strated with her for ex- 
posing herself to contagi- 
ous diseases needlessly, her 
reply was to found a 
house of visiting sisters at 
Annecy, where she gave 
herself entirely to such 
medical charity. She died 
in a convent at Moulins in 1641 at the age of sixty-nine. Mme. de Se- 
vigne was her granddaughter. 

Harless 2 (p. 182) tells us of another noted scholar of this century, 
Marie de Coste Blanche, who lived and taught in Paris. Although 
physics and mathematics were her specialties, she was skilled in medicine, 
and probably acted as a specialist in obstetrics. She published a work 
in 1566 on “The Nature of the Sun and Earth.” He also mentions 

1 Kavanagh, Julia, “Women of Christianity”, Chapter XI. 

2 Harless, Chr. Friedr., “Die Verdienste der Frauen urn Naturwissenschaft 
und Heilkunde”, 1830. 

Louyse Bourgeois 



”■ •M T'!*' n °' cd ", Marie Romieu, „ ho wrMe and 

U£h, p ,ys'„ log) . , -or Kiris. In ,58, was published her book on the 

S I™ rC r „ V r ' P,V “ 3 «*• -■««- by her brother 

bchelena, ,n h,s H, store Pharmacy." points out that there were 

i . 1 ' nan j' a P otll(:ca r'es m Fr »n<* during this century. Between 

. :,i > ani " cre passed Permitting widows to become apothe- 

cary in place ot their husbands, if they were properly q uali«ed In a 
medical book published by Bartholomaeus Vogter in' , 5+1 . there is a 

:x°: a — " ■ - - - 

Although in the sixteenth century such books as Rbslins were avail- 
able m many languages, it is no, probable that the average midwill 
ought them, or even borrowed them. This kept the profession at the' 
low level at which „ had stood for so long. By the end of the century 
however Louise Bourgeois, and others of her learning and skill, formed 

doc w r° C ' a, r “"’T'T ' itC ° f °“ r presm ‘ Ja >’ "arises and 

octo s, the members ot which made rules for their own protection and 

for the elevation ot midwifery in general. I„ France duiing this 

ury, owever, tor the first time women threw oft their veil of 

wtr n m ' n practiti0ners f "'° 'b'ir lying-in rooms; but 

I , «l", b 3 ' T ,h * ' V ° men "■” rk ' d ™ a "er fees, they con- 

tin,,, I to be more popular. In ,560 a statute was enacted in France 

tia log ,t obligatory for practicing midwifes ,0 belong ,0 the fraternity 
the medical saints, Cosmo and Damien, and visit their church on 
;,h °‘ September each year to pray for help in their work. For 
ho ac, of devotion, which implied that they had passed an examination, 
he taxes of candidates were remitted; but they- were expected to treat 
the poor without fees. Naturally, however, neither prayers, oaths, nor 
examinations could raise the status of the really inefficient or unethical 
midw ives. One of them regular duties being to baptise every baby 
horn, dead or alive, under their care, in cases where the baby was 
illegitimate the midwife was blindfolded so that she might no, recog- 
nise patient or child a, a later time. These midwives were obliged to 
swear that they would not use abortifacients, or do anything to endanger 
the l„e ,, either mother or child. They also promised to lead a pure 
an, upng it ite. as in the Oath ol Hippocrates, and to attend, wherever 
possible, the post-mortems and dissections of female bodies at the medical 
SClln,ll< - m " r,,er t0 k "°"' mough of female anatomy be able ,0 act 
Witkowski, "Hintoire de* Accouchement*", 1887 . 



as witnesses in cases of abortion ; for even though denounced by the 
church, abortions were still very common ; and lay men and women were 
often accused of inserting stem pessaries, or of giving poisons, or can- 
tharides, or dried menstrual fluid to women who wished to be relieved 
of a pregnancy. Illegitimate embryos were, therefore, destroyed at peril 
to the nurse as well as the mother, since tell-tale scars on the abdomen 
were more easily prevented than obliterated. 

In Germany, in the sixteenth century, there were many successful 
midwives whose names have come down to us. Among them was Anna 
Elizabeth Horenburgin, the official obstetrician of Braunschweig, whose 
services were in great demand. It was for her, and her contemporaries, 
that Conrad Gesner in 1564 published in his great encyclopedia a chapter 
on women’s diseases, in which he quoted liberally from all the past 
authorities, including our old friends, Cleopatra and Trotula. 

There was also a famous midwife in Havelberg in 1555 named 
Margarita Fuss, the daughter of a noted noblewoman accoucheuse. At 
the age of twenty-two, Margarita, who had married a worthless wretch, 
found herself forced to earn her living . 1 She studied with her mother, 
went to Strasburg and Cologne for further education, and eventually 
became so famous that she was asked to go all over Germany, Holland, 
and Denmark for consultations in obstetrics. She was often called 
“Mother Greta.” Being fond of peculiarities of dress, she wore a full 
red and black striped skirt, and a sort of soldier’s jacket like those of 
the Hungarian Hussars. On her arm she carried a bag with the snake 
of Esculapius embroidered on it, and in her hand a gold-headed cane. 
In winter she wore a large cape trimmed with yellow fox fur. She 
was naturally a notable figure at court, both as physician and midwife, 
and when she died, in 1626, the cathedral bells were rung in her honor, 
and her obsequies were carried out with royal splendor. 

There was also, in 1526, an Italian woman obstetrician in Germany 
named Fulvia Morata, of Ferrara. She had been educated at the Italian 
universities, and was sent to Germany as Court accoucheuse. So famous 
did she become that, after her early death at the age of twenty-nine, a 
school for midwives bearing her name was founded at Bonn. 

H arless (p. 158) gives us the names of several other noted German 
midwives of this century. Eleonora, Duchess of Troppau and Jaegern- 
dorf 2 , wrote books on remedies and diet in diseases, “VI Bucher auser- 

1 Siebold, Edouard Casper Jacob von, “Essay on the History of Obstetrics”, 
1839 . 

2 We shall return to the Duchess of Troppau and her work in the chapter 
on the seventeentli century. 

3 bo 


Uxmr Arznci, n Kunststuckc /«» /Sr Me i„ memchlkhen Leila 

These »"* «« publisJicd in folio in 

l a< , , US POP ' ,l!,r " y ' • lnd through at least live editions, 

a>t o which (1709-1713) had the fantastic title, “Wild Pome- 

ReTeakd "“a f Z or °< Medicine. Diet, etc., 

t caled. Anna Soph, a, a princess of Denmark who married the Kur- 

n,r-t August I of Saxony in ,543. had a famous botanic garden in which 

she raised her own 
medicinal herbs. She 
-Iso founded an 
apothecary shop 
which remained in 
existence for three 
hundred years. An- 
tonia, Duchess of 
Wurtemberg (died 
> 579 ), was a noted 
botanist and student 
of nature; and Bar- 
bara Weintrauben, 
of Augsburg, pub- 
lished a “doctor’s 
book" in 1603, and 
Anna Weckerin a 
drug book (Amberg, 

1 595 ) » containing 
the oldest German 

, >. „ receipts for prepar- 

bstetric Chair Used in the i6th Century ing food for in- 
valids. 1 

witnesses to examine ind t,- * i f • physicians nncl midwives ns expert 

says that tlreTrl antW ''' ; '" (1 Hazard 

story coos , cortmu , "lien ™„" 5™^',^""?' C “ h,r - V ' '"' l th ' 
"lined to practice obstetric that he dressed l Hamburg was .so detcr- 

with a few women who were pre Jan t ^nd n th^ ,n * rratiated himself 

“Devils'* Drugs* and Dolors'’, TsS* p^g Ha ^ lr(l ’ Howard w'* 



The most famous medical woman in Switzerland during the six- 
teenth century was undoubtedly Marie Colinet of Bern, who married 
Fabricius of Hidden, a renowned surgeon. 1 Fabricius himself said that, 
though he taught his wife surgery, she far excelled him. They lived in 
Geneva between 1585 and 1587, where Marie was born and where she 
had worked as a midwife. Fabricius particularly praised her skill as a 
bone-setter. He tells of one case, of a man who had such a severe 
injury to his ribs, that it was necessary for Marie to wire them to keep 
them in place. After this she placed over the wound a dressing of oil 
of roses, and a plaster of barley flour, powdered roses, and wild pome- 
granate flowers, mixed with cypress nuts and raw eggs ; bandaged the 
patient with splints; and regulated his diet. He was well in four weeks. 
In her obstetric operations she used hot bags for dilating and stimulating 

the uterus, thus ac- 
complishing a birth 
which might other- 
wise have required 
a Caesarian section, 
in which operation 
she was, however, 
especially successful. 
Fabricius also says 
that it was she who 
Another i6th Century Obstetric Chair: first used a magnet 

This Was Used In Bed for extracting a bit 

of steel from the 

eye; though medical historians generally overlook his statement, and 
hold that this was his invention. In any event, the citizens of Bern 
conferred on her the rights of citizenship; to Fabricius the city of 
Diisseldorf erected a statue. We shall refer to his work briefly later. 2 3 

There was a great botanist in Switzerland in the early quarter of 
the sixteenth century named Otho Brunfels (1464-1534), city physician 
at Bern, who published a “Herbarium” in 1530, which was famous for 
its excellent and original illustrations. Felix Plater in his “ Memoires” 
(p. 89) remarks that the wife of Brunfels was also skilled in medicine, 

1 Guilh. Fabricii Hildani: “Opera,” Franefurt, 1646, p. 475. Also Harless, 

p. 165. 

3 Baas (p. 416) says of Fabricius Hildanus, “Seine Frau aber war eine 
c/eschickte Hebamme, die unter Umstanden auch wacker Ohirurgiseh prak- 
ticirte. Seine Kinder verlor er durch die Pest.” 



and so able that, after the death of her husband, she carried on his work 
and had a large practice of her own. 

In Holland there was a famous medical woman named Catherine 
Tissheim, mother and teacher of the philologist, Gruter, the author of 
the compilation of Greek inscriptions. She read Hippocrates and Galen 
in the original, and is said to have studied medicine “profoundly.” Al- 
though born in Amsterdam in 1 560, she and her son lived lor many 
years in Germany for the sake of the religious freedom to be had there. 
Peter Bayle, Brockhaus and others refer to her learning with admiration. 1 

It is more difficult to find the names of the successful midwives who 
were plying their trade in Italy in the sixteenth century. Doubtless 
there were scores of them, quietly giving help and cheer to their patients; 
but, whether lay or clerical, they knew little or nothing of the techniques 
necessary in difficult deliveries. As a result there was an enormous 
maternal and infant mortality. Castiglione s beloved wife, Ippolita. died 
of fever when her baby was five days old. Her last letters to her 
husband from her death-bed are most touching, for she tells him bravely 
that she is “tired and has a little fever,” but she expects to live to see 
him again, and to watch her new babv grow. It must have been small 
consolation to her husband that her physician wrote a “tender elegy on 
her character.” Madeleine de la Tour D'Auvcrgne, wife of the great 
I^orenzo De’ Medici, died in child-birth. The deaths in child-birth of 
Lucrezia Borgia and Beatrice D’F.ste have been already mentioned. 


T HE medical books of the sixteenth century give us an insight into 

the conditions of life at the time : but they are also, unfortunately, 
a “heart-wringing condemnation” of the work of its midwives, surgeons, 
and doctors. Roslin’s “Rose Garden,” first published in 1513, was 
written at the request of the duchess Katherine von Braunschweig. 
She had the satisfaction of living to see it translated into many other 
languages, and illustrated better than any of its predecessors. The 
woodcuts show the position of the foetus in utcro. There are pictures 
of lying-in rooms, in which the midwife holds the new baby while a 
nurse leads a little child towards its mother, strewing roses on the floor, 

1 Harless, p. 17 2 . Cf. also Polycarp Schaeher, "De Feminist ex arte medico, 
rlari.t." 1738; I’ctcr Bayle, “Diet, of Biog.”; Brockhaus’ "Lexicon”; Tira- 
quclluc. "Dr nobilitate " ; Witkowski, " Sayee-femmes et cfldbre.i’’ ; 
Siehold, " de Vobstetric" . 


probably in allusion to the title, “Roses for Pregnant Women and Mid- 

• Ml 

wives. 1 

The work of Cajus Tranquillus Suetonius (d. A. D. 160), first 
printed in Venice in 1510, has actually better illustrations, and more 
correct anatomical details, than the copy of Roslin or his followers. 2 
Roslin’s or those of Suetonius is noteworthy for showing the first picture 
of a Caesarian section. The dead patient lies upon a long box, with her 
legs overhanging its edge. A surgeon holds up his great dripping carving 
knife, while an assistant removes the baby from the mother’s abdomen. 
Three other women are watching the operation, while the husband wrings 
his hands; another man holds the patient’s head, and still another, in the 
short gown of the school of Saint Come, appears to be disturbed at the 
sight. The visiting women wear long robes, and have kerchiefs on 
their heads. 

A running synopsis of another midwifery manual of the day, that 
by Thomas Raynald, gives a general impression of all of them. Its 
dedication reads: “The Byrthe of Mankynde, otherwise named the 
Woman’s Booke. Newly set forth, corrected and augmented, whose 
contents ye may rede in the table of the books and most plainly in the 
prologue.” There are first chapters on anatomy, beginning with the 
“coats in which the body is lapped or involved—” and considering in 
turn the muscles, peritoneum, uterus, seed vessels called stones, seed- 
bringers which carry the seed to the angles of the uterus, the bladder, etc. 
Also a discussion of menstruation. In the second part are reprinted 
the old methods for calculating the date of birth of a baby, a statement 
of the non-viability of an eight-month child, a discussion of the conduct 
of the confinement of girls of from twelve to fifteen years when “the 
passage be over narrow, straight or diseased,” and one on “births in old 
women who are of feeble complexion, or too cold, or too fat or too lean,” 
or in cases where “she never had a chylde before,” etc. Then comes a 
chapter on the infant, whether it is too large or too weak to turn itself 
during birth, or if it present a knee or a shoulder or a foot, or if there 
are twins. There is a short paragraph on abortions during the fourth 
or fifth month, when the womb is usually so “tightly closed as not to 
admit the point of a needle.” There is a chapter on the remedies which 
make labor easy, such as meat and hot sweet drinks if the woman is faint ; 

1 Roslin was city-physician in Frankfort, 1506-1512. Some of his illustrations 
are taken from Soranus, thirteen hundred years before. 

2 Aveling, James Hobson, “English Midwives, Their History and Prospects,” 

36 ; 


h , 0t duck } S " rease apphed ro the perineum ; olive oil and linseed oil to 
the navel; warm baths containing mercury, maiden-hair, chamomile, and 
mallows; a sponge soaked with warm oil in the vagina; sweet odors to 
the nose, etc., all of we have seen in the older books. The nurse 
shouJd say hopeful words to the patient, stroke her abdomen, let her 

grove! on the door, if she is fat, while the midwife anoints “her 
I here are several pages on the afterbirth. The third book is 
concerned with the care of the new baby, its diseases and their remedies. 

, ..fourth h° ok 15 conception, its let or hindrance, with remedies for 
s cri itt. inally there follows a chapter on cosmetics, sweet breath 

pimples, and feminine toilet requisites such as are found in all the oldest 

Raynold speaks of the heart as a well of the arteries, “able to steer 
■tself, close itself, and open itself, thus sucking in fresh air to temper 
t e heat of the body, and making the pulses beat, and expelling misty 
fumes and hot breaths.” This theory was neither new, nor did he take 
am pains to verity his statements. He calls the brain the seat of th- 
nitty spirits and sensibility, which are sent by the sinews to all parts of 
he body that move or feel. He urges women to study his book well 
or he has taken great pains to write it; and he adds that it would not 
harm even children to read it, for there is nothing in women’s anatomy 
so private that she should be ashamed of it. Nevertheless, he advises 
u> readers not to discuss the book with lewd people, but only with their 
husbands or physicians. On the other hand, he advises those midwives 
^ho can read to read it aloud to those who can not read, for there are 
ac midw ives like asses, apes, bears, owls, etc., who will talk against 
e book and call it filthy reading, but it is only written for gentle folk 
jvho can appreciate it.” Taken all in all. a book like this obviously does 

' ha ™ ^ n0t mUCh g °° d - Tt Shmvs 1,0 Progress in diagnosis or 

SklH ’ n °. hmt at sur & er - v or cleanliness, and foreshadows the nineteenth 
century in no way. 

We have already mentioned Roslin’s book. In its first edition 
(Strasburg, 1512) it was entitled " Der Swangern frawen und Hebam- 
” lCn Kosengartcn. ’ The edition published in Worms in 1513 is called 
merely ‘Der Rosengarten." In a German edition of Rbslin’s book 
printed in 1532 and dedicated to the Emperor Maximilian, there is a 
picture ot a confinement in the time of Antoninus Pius, and another birth 
scene in which a woman brandishes a pair of scissors as large as pruning 
shears for cutting the baby’s cord. 


An edition in Latin of Roslin’s book, “De Partu Hominis tt circa 
ipsum accidunt, libellus E. Rhodionis, was published in 1 5 3 2 • I n 

Rhodion’s edition are many interesting illustrations. On the title page 
is a mother sitting up in bed watching the nurse and baby. On the floor 
is a wooden tub beside the empty obstetric chair, and above it hangs a 
little lamp. There are the usual pictures of preternaturally active in- 
fants in gymnastic positions in their circumambient fluid inside the uterus. 
In one edition of Rhodion’s translation are the following lines condemn- 
ing the ignorance of ordinary midwives: 1 

Ich meyn die Hebammen alle sanipt 
Die also gar keyn wyssen handt, 

Darzu dureh yr hynlessigkeit 
Kynd verderben vveit und breit. 

Und handt so schlechten Fleiss gethon 
Das sie mit Ampt eyn Mort begon. 

It was also translated into Spanish, and ran through twenty-eight 
editions. The Spaniards popularized a flat mannikin in many layers, 
one of which by Carbo of Mallorca was condemned by the Inquisition in 
1541, although the author was unmolested, and eventually only the lines 
on impregnation were omitted. 

In another edition of Roslin, one of only seventy-four pages, are 
two medallions, each containing the portrait and name of a nurse or 
medical woman, one of them Maria Patidilla Antonini Pii, the other 
Anitia Paulina. In still another edition (1583) by Adam Lonicerus, 
"doctor der Artzney daselbst,” the babies in the uterus are quite new and 
original, one seems to be weeping and rubbing its eyes, another hugs its 
thick cord, another presents by the buttocks as if sitting on a stool, ‘ in 
which case,” says the author, “it would be easy to turn the foetus so as 
to make its egress more rapid.” The mothers are represented in modish 
gowns and large capes. As for Caesarian sections, Lonicerus advises that 
the incision be on the left side to avoid cutting the liver, the mouth of 
the dead mother being held open “so that the child may continue to 
breathe during the operation.” If the child is dead it may be removed 
through the vagina, piecemeal, bv hooks. 

We have already mentioned that Trotula’s great work on gyne- 
cology was printed for the first time during this century. Caspar Wolff 
of Zurich published it in 1566; Caspar Bauhin of Basle in 1586. Most 
comprehensive, however, was, as stated, the edition of Spach. This 

1 Quoted by Dr. Howard A. Kelly, Johns Hopkins Hospital Bull., No. !), 1890. 



" nt '"" cd ' accord, "S <“ its publisher, “the illustrated works of all the 
best writers °,, the subject of diseases of women, in Greek. Latin and 
Aralue Of Felix Plater there are tables and case-records; Moschion 
and Cleopatra are printed in Greek in parallel columns for comparison 

rr» niT’T ' mr t 0 " us medici Mali Julia, Mer 

a most '"' ent >' Pages ; Nicholas Roch has a running commen- 
tary on such old writers as Olympias the Theban, Paul of Aegina, Galen, 
D.oscondes, Ac, ms, Soranus, and there tire also the treatises of Fuchs 
and Rhodion, who were contemporaries of Spach. He includes also the 
uork of Bonaciolus dedteated to Lucretia D'Este. the work of Sylvius 
written m the middle of the century, and the works of Ambroise Pare’ 
a..c Guillemeau the surgeons, all well illustrated with pictures of the 
.nstrmnents used performing operations-altogether the gynecological 
uork of twenty-one authors, collected in one great volume of ,080 
pages in fine b ack print, besides a preface and index. No wonder that 
it ends with the pious reflection, " Laus Deo.” 

Enough has been given here to show that gynecology was becoming 

ncce"' 0,1 S S!' I!I t, : aml ,hat books on th = subject were coming to be 

start There were also “fugitive sheets”; and manikins, in xuper- 
unpmed ‘ayers, to he used ,n barber shops and clinics, were popular. One, 
called Tee, max layers, was published in , 5+0 by Perutilis of Paris and 
ung in bath-houses and pharmacies. One called Adam has the face of 

putii-ri V 5 ' g “ ' VOOd ' enSraVCr ,,an ’ ed Ha " s Weygel of Nuremberg 

i ic bed A 8UrC ,'" ClVe *** a woman on an 

obstetnc bed. A nurse holds a towel so as to hide the vulva, but on 

' E “ fir *' l a| ’ see tllc ">terior of the abdomen and a pregnant 
uterus, beneath the flaps of which in turn is a well-developed foetus 

Another important scientific book of the sixteenth century was the 

0l Gr ' g0riUS IWlK in the latter 

art the fifteenth century, again at Basel in ,503, and later. Reisch 

s','' a 7 nk ° f th ? Carthus'an monastery in Freiburg, the confessor of 
. faximihan I, assistant to Erasmus. His " Margarita “ was a sort of 
test book for all students of the Seven Liberal Art,, “fully illustrated 
y drawings of great interest taken from ancient sources.” There is a 
s a liable map of the world hinting of great unknown islands to the west 
not part of Asia. Of particular interest to us. however, are his several’ 
woodcuts of human anatomy, showing dissected bodies and also special 
rgans such as the eye, the neck, trachea, etc. His signs of the aodiac 
an the conventional ones; and his pictures on blood-letting may have 


come even from Chinese sources. Sudhoff has traced many of these 
illustrations of Reisch. He finds some in a sixteenth century edition of 
Ketham. Since medical illustrations were reprinted century after 
century, it is a pity that the much better anatomical drawings of Leon- 
ardo da Vinci 1 such, for instance, as his child in utero, were lost for two 
hundred years; they would have been a greater help to midwives in 
their work than those of the “ Rosengarten” . 

There were also in this century two new and popular books on 
pediatrics written for mothers and women doctors. Both were in verse 
so as to be easily memorized. One of them, by the godly abbot Quillet, 
was dedicated to Calliope. Its title may be translated “Radiant Mother- 
hood”, it being a panegyric on beauty both in the child and the mother. 
The Abbot says that all men were handsome and all women fair before 
the Fall, but now sin has drawn its lines in the human features. 

The other book was by Scevola de Sainte Marthe, physician to seven 

French kings. He called it “ P aedotrophiae” , or the “Art of Nursing 

and Rearing Children”. It was published in 1584, and dedicated to 

Henry III of France, “the patron and pattern of polite learning.” It 

was written in advocacy of good marriages, and particularly of breast 

feeding for infants. Mothers, he says, should — 

“. . . learn how to nurse the pledges of our love”. . . 

And addressing the doctors, he pleads — ■ 

“You who are vers’t in Esculapian arts 
To whom the God his healing power imparts.” 

a mother must 

Large meals upon the sucking babe bestow, 

And freely let the snowy fountains flow. 

He advises pregnant women to avoid the nostrums of quacks, and to be 
careful in their diet, eschewing particularly uncooked chicken and gravel. 
They should not wait too long in the early stage of labor before calling 
the midwife. He tells the nurse how to prepare the obstetric chair and 
bed, how to anoint the patient’s perineum with oil, how to mix the 
mastic and myrrh for the child’s navel, and when to feed it with honey 
and wine before putting it to the breast. Its eyes are to be washed with 
mother’s milk, lemon juice is to be rubbed into the tonsils, oil to be 
dropped into its ears. If its gums become sore in teething, the baby’s 

1 Isis, 1931, p. 342. Review of an article on “Leonardo da Vinci, the Ana- 
tomist,” by J. Playfair McMurrick. The anatomical drawings of da Vinci 
were discovered at Windsor Castle in 1784 by the famous obstetrician and 
anatomist, William Hunter. 



fingers arc to be d.pped into a mixture of hare’s brains, honey, and rose 
water, so that when he sucks his fingers the mixture will soothe the 
inflammation. For diarrhoea the nurse should give the child a tea of 
poppy seeds, and camomile for its colics, and marshmallow root for a 
physic. I hese d.rections are all written in the form of a poem, which 
ends with a diatribe against war. 

Although there had been little improvement in obstetrics in several 
hundreds of years, yet signs will be noted that, at least, in the sixteenth 
century midwives had grasped the idea that sometimes surgery was re- 
quired, and that this surgery might be performed bv a man with the 
necessary skill and daring if no woman was available. In other words 
there was a growing sentiment in favor of consultations with a man 
surgeon ,n extreme cases. The first picture that we have of a man in 
k lung-in room is said to be found in Coccles, "De Sorte Uominum " 

( \ emce, 1522). But before that there were traditions of farmers 
and shepherds who had performed Caesarian section on their wives 
uho survived them to have other children. The earliest of these 
Rories is told of a certain sow-gelder in 1500; but it may be apocryphal. 1 

h u'er I ’ °r V™ deCmed dcsirablc to P~hiblt farmers and 
epherds by law, in Germany, from officiating in labor cases Also 

army surgeons were not considered sufficiently skilful to operate on 

women George Baker said that they slew more than the enemy 

" h,ch dld not add ro thcir Popularity in England. Ship surgeons 
;Or some reason, had a somewhat better reputation than those of 

th'T ,; S SaK, . th r t thcy peercd int0 abdominal wounds bv the 

hte > ^ ^ nCCCSSary ’ thcy St ° ppcd eternal hemor- 

rhages with their longest cauteries. They had needles with large eyes 

un dissectors and probes, trepans, many kinds of knives, forceps ‘for 

■acting arrows, and strong saws with which they could amputate a 

J a Very fy m,nutes - An«th«i. was, of course, still unknown; 

> > gave their patients as much wine and opiate as was necessary 

to put them out of pain during the operation. 



I r would not be fa,r to try to tell the story of the medical women of 
he sixteenth century without giving more than passing references to 
thereat medical men of the period, especially as many of them fully 

1 Garrison, op. cit., p. 160 . 


appreciated women’s capabilities, and some of them, like Pare, made 
special effort to teach them. We may blame the universities for their 
ban against women, making difficult for them the acquirement of the 
cultural foundations of a medical career ; we may blame the religious 
spirit of the time, with its tendency to keep women in an inferior social 
position; but we should also blame the women of the day themselves 
for their lack of organization and of interest in promoting their own 
advancement in law, medicine, art, and business. We must admit that,, 
for some or all of these reasons, women were gradually slipping into a 
sort of intellectual inertia while men were forging ahead. And that 
there were exceptions to this conclusion, by no means challenges its 
general validity. 

It was in this century that such scientists as Copernicus, Vesalius 
(1514-1564), and Paracelsus (1493- 1541) lived and worked. There 
was still much medievalism in the beliefs of these men ; but they were 
endeavoring to do, and did, considerable independent thinking. In the 
domain of medicine all thinkers were struggling to get rid of the incubus 
of Galen. Berengario da Carpi (d. 1550), the anatomist of gynecolo- 
gist, dissected more than a hundred subjects carefully. Sylvius (Jacques 
Dubois) (1478-1555) “injected veins” in order to differentiate the 
arterial and nervous systems. Leonardo da Vinci was painting muscles 
that he actually saw. Eustachius (1520-1574) and Fallopius (1523- 
1562) and Vesalius all made important discoveries in anatomy, to some 
of which their names are still attached. But, with the exception of 
Paracelsus, not one of these masters dared say out loud that they dis- 
agreed with Galen. 

And there was still the Church to be reckoned with. Because of 
his belief in the essential unity of the godhead, in the Copernican theory 
of the multiplicity of the worlds in the universe, and in the indestructi- 
bility of matter, Giordano Bruno (1545-1600) was burned at the stake. 
Writers like Eustachius were not allowed to publish really valuable 
material. Others, like Coiter, earned money by the publication of such 
puerile questions and answers as: “Why is man the only laughing ani- 
mal ? Why do babies have blonde hair ? Why are strong people more 
likely to be seasick than frail people?” Gianbatista Porta (1536-1615) 
easily found a publisher for his strange “doctrine of signatures”, which 
was based on a theory that “like cures like”, the “likeness” being perhaps 
merely one of color, shape, or size. In other words he would give yellow 
remedies for jaundice, lung-wort for cough, etc. But this theory was 



of a kind with Erascator’s ‘‘seeds of disease” i.-k.vk , 

- i uiscabe , w inch were supposed to 

~ StarS; ?' ,hC WW • %■« horoscope was 
almost as important as lite itself. The barber surgeons, physicians or 

master surgeons were not treated materially better in one country than 

: n G n u U er ; n n h : 54 ° King , Hen - Vm '■* surgeons to fo^ 

Mas A t / e T - SUrge ° n ’ Sir Th0mas Vicar .v, was its first 

‘ A Panmng showing the King and all the surgeons of this 

gamzat.on kneeling before him is one of Holbein the Younger’s ( i +97 - 
D8 > most interesting works. One of their rules was: “No carpenter 
sm. h, weaver, or woman shall practice surgery.” This may show that 

"“me" Uere noC welcome as surgeons; but it also shows, indirectly that 

women were even then regularly doing surgical work, for probation 

are not opposed unless there is something prohibit. The barber sur- 

geons outnumbered the master surgeons 185 to 17 The - ... 

not secede from the barbers until ,7- , • ? ' T 8 ' 0 " 5 d,d 

f L_, r .• , , n U1t ]/ +7. and It was not until 1800 that 

" „ med the Royal College of Surgeons. The physicians had formed 

a Royal College under L, nacre in ,5,8'; an action which had a great 
influence on medical education. g 

After forming their Guild the surgeons were allowed the bodies of 
our criminals each year for their studies in anatomy. They me each 

; y t„: t, r , ,is "" c ‘ i - a — * one z :■ 

Z he, r ■ T r0Val Pr,Vil ' K ' -'ling brandy, front 

per „ , , q "" e a " Wa ’ me - J!ut ™ member was allowed 

cere they * !' MUt tht C0 " Se "‘ ° f "" entire Guild, nor 

t « t„ give any medicine without the consent of the College of 

the C iil T yCari h T- 05 .. » surgeon was appointed from 

entur S " rS!e0 " IW ' the following 

M it m, 7"' C ", "7 aPP ° in,Cd ” S '‘ireri'Crs" and attendants t 
, ,t teas more than three hundred years before women were allowed 
to lecome members of either the Guild or the College of Surgeons. 

thefimr JT / V?* (l ^-56t). mentioned above a, 

Anatomy „f' \r " ‘ ',.7" ' °J S ‘'. rgeons ' was ,he author of “The True 
‘ 1 ‘ ’ ( 7 /,r Englishman's Treasurer 1548), the first 

work on anatomy printed in English. Osier* says that he copied his 
material from Do Mondeville and Lanfranc. 

“Clstel"of 'h irf Kln 7 , 7 T ianS ,VaS Sir Th °"“ Elw. 
° f He,thr WaS '’" l,llshcd ■" ‘ 534 . and several times reprinted. 

• ,909 ' 

A Woman Surgeon Treats a Leg Wound. 

The nude patient is in bed. A man acts as assistant. Two others watch. 
(From a 16th century wood cut.) 

' -Gw: 


“This book,” says its author, “was gathered out of the chiefe authors 
of physyke, whereby every manne may knowe the state of his owne body, 
the preservation of helth, and how to instruct his physition in sykenes 
that he be not deceyved.” As Elyot was not a graduated physician, and 
as the book was written in English to teach the common people how to 
diagnose their own diseases, the profession were quite anno) ? ed at the wel- 
come reception given it. It is a small volume, only 6x4 inches. The 
author quotes extensively from Galen, prescribes rules for diet, advises 
the drinking of rain water instead of wine; but, he adds, the water must 
be light, and have little scum on boiling. As for milk for babies, that of 
the mother, he says, is best. Then comes that of a cow, then goats 
milk, then camel’s; but he advises boiling all milk with sugar, or honey, 
or mint. He also advises copious bleeding, leeches, cupping, etc. His 
diagnosis of disease by the urine is shown in a page of color tests. “For 
the prevention of the plague,” says he, “one should eat, after fasting, 
figs cooked with rue, walnuts, treacle or mithridate dissolved in vinegar 
or rosewater, but abstain from meat for six hours afterwards,” and he 
adds, “let him flee from the place corrupted betimes and far off, and let 
no one come near from the abode of the plague.” He closes with a 
pious prayer for both physician and patient, and begs for kindly reception 
for his book. 

Another of the great medical men of England at this time was John 
Caius ( 1 5 1 o- 1573), the founder of one of the colleges at Cambridge 
and a noted Greek and Latin scholar. He lived through one of the 
epidemics of the sweating sickness, and took the pains to study his 
patients and make notes on the symptoms of the disease; but the causes 
of epidemics in general puzzled him and he wondered if God did not 
protect some people more than others. He wrote seventy-two books and 
pamphlets; taught for three years at Padua, where he had studied; 
travelled widely in search of medical material ; and never flinched from 
defending himself because he was a Catholic in Protestant countries. 
His simple epitaph reads: “Fui Caius. Vivit post funera virtus.” 1 

Another of the famous physicians of England in this century was 
Thomas Linacre, a native of Canterbury (1460-1524). He was priest, 

1 A recent book by Harrison, “An Elizabethan Journal, 1591-1594,” p. 426, 
states that Dr. Caius was “well money’d and his friends were Potent at Court.” 
He was court physician to Edward VI, Queen Mary, and, for a short time, 
to Elizabeth. He also lived in the palace of Cosimo de’ Medicis at Florence 
for some time. Henry VIII appointed him lecturer on anatomy in Ixmdon; 
and he was elected president of the College of Surgeons nine times. 



doctor, and grammarian, most happy when translating some abstruse 
Pa-sage of Galen. He also had studied and taught medicine in Padua,, 
had “crammed Dioscorides, Aristotle and Pliny,’’ and had made a small 
fortune by his skill at the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He re- 
turned to England to care for the courts